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~eno Mnuit liomines. artes inveuiendi snlidas et veras adolescere et increme' ta n 
mere cum ipsis inventis —Bac De Augm Sctent., 1 v , c 3. 





3S9 & 331 PEARL STllEET, 


1885. ^ 


':? o 


TiiEUE aie several reasons which have induced ihe 
author of the following sheets to give the public so tie 
account of their origin and progress, previously to tb^^ir 
coming unner its examination. / They are a series of 
Essays closely connected with one another, and writ- 
ten on a subject in the examination of which he has 
at intervals employed himself for a considerable part 
of his life. Considered separately, each may justly be 
termed a whole, and complete in itself; taken togeth- 
er, they are constituent parts of one work. The au- 
thor entered on this inquiry as early as the year 1750 ; 
and it was then that the first two chapters of the first 
book were composed. These he intended as a sort of 
groundwork to the whole. And the judicious reader 
will perceive that, in raising the superstructure, he has 
entirely conformed to the plan there delineated. That 
first outline he showed soon after to several of his ac- 
quaintance, some of whom are still living. In the year 
1757 it was read to a private literary society, of which 
the author had the honour to be a member. It was a 
aifference in his situation yt that time, and his connex- 
ion with the gentlemen of that society, some of whom 
have since honourably distinguished themselves in the 
republic of letters, that induced him to resume a sub- 
ject which he had so long laid aside. The three fol- 
lowing years all the other chapters of that book, ex- 
cept the third, the sixth, and the tenth, which have 
been hut lately added (rather as illustrations a.'id coo- 


firniaiions of some parts of the work, than as essentia 
to it), were composed, and submitted to the judgment 
of the same ingenuous friends. All that follows on the 
subject of Elocution hath also undergone the same re- 
view. Nor has there been any material alteration 
made on these, or any addition to them, except in a 
few instances of notes, examples, and verbal correc- 
tions, since they were composed 

It is also proper to observe here, that since trans- 
cribing the present work for the press, a manuscript 
was put into his hands by Doctor Beattie, at the very 
time that, in order to be favoured with the doctor's 
opinion of this performance, the author gave him the 
first book for his perusal. Doctor Beattie's tract is 
called An Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Writing. 
While the author carefully perused that Essay, it gave 
him a very agreeable surprise to discover that, on a 
question so nice and curious, there should, without any 
previous communication, be so remarkable a coinci- 
dence of sentiments in everything wherein their sub- 
jects coincide. A man must have an uncommon con- 
fidence in his own faculties (I might have said in his 
own infallibility) who is not sensibly more satisfied of 
the justness of their procedure, especially in abstract 
matters, when he discovers such a concurrence with 
the ideas and reasoning of writers of discernment. 
The subject of that piece is, indeed. Laughter in gen- 
eral, with an inquiry into those qualities in the object 
by which it is excited. The investigation is conducted 
with the greatest acs.'ir^sy. and the theory confirmed 
and illustrated by such a variety of pertinent examples, 
as enable us to scrutinize his doctrine on every side, 
and view it in almost every possible light. He doos 
not enter into the specific characters whereby wit anq 


niimour are discriminated, which are the chief consid- 
erations here. His design leads him to consider rather 
those particulars -wherein *thcy all agree, than those 
wherein they differ. He treats of ludicrous objects 
and ludicrous writing, with a view to account for the 
superior copiousness and refinement of modern ridicule. 
When philosophical acuteness is happily united with so 
great richness of fancy and mastery in language, the 
obscurity in which a subject was formerly involved 
^'anishes entirely, and a reader unacquainted with all 
other theories and hypotheses, can hardly be persua- 
ded that there was ever any difficulty in the question. 
Jiut there is reason to think that the world will soon be 
favoured with an opportunity of judging for itself in re 
gard to the merits of that performance. 

One reason, though not the only one which the au- 
thor has for mentioning the manner wherein the com- 
position of this work has been conducted, and the time 
it has taken, is not to enhance its value with the pub- 
lic, but to apologize in some measure for thai inequal- 
ity in the execution and the style, with which he is 
afraid it will be thought chargeable. It is his purpose 
in this work, on the one hand, to exhibit , he does not 
say a correct map, hujia tolerable sketch of the human 
mind ; and, aided by the lights which the poet and the 
orator so amply furnish, to disclose its secret move- 
ments, tracing its principal channels of perception and 
action, as near as possible, to their source / and, on the 
other hand, from the science of human nature, to as- 
certain, with greater precision, the radical principles 
of that art, whose object it is, by the use of language, 
to operate on the soul of the hearer, in the way of in- 
forming, convincing, pleasing, moving, or persuading. 
In the prosecution of a design so extensive there are 

\ 2 


two extremes to be shunned. One is, too much ab- 
straction in investigating causes ; the other, too much 
minuteness in specifying effects. By the first, the per- 
spicuity of a performance may be endangered ; by the 
second, its dignity may be sacrificed. Tiie author docs 
not flatter himself so far as to imagine that he hath 
succeeded perfectly in his endeavours to avoid cither 
extreme. In a work of tiiis kind, it is impossible that 
everything should be alike perspicuous to every read- 
er, or that all the parts should be equally elevated. 
Variety in this respect, as well as in others, is perhaps, 
on the whole, more pleasing and more instructive than 
too scrupulous a uniformity. To the eye the inter- 
change of hill and dale beautifies the prospect ; and to 
the ear there is no music in monotony. The author 
can truly say, that he lias endeavoured, as much as he 
could, in the most abstruse questions, to avoid obscu- 
rity ; and in regard to such of his remarks as may be 
thought too minute and particular, if just, they will 
not, he liopes, on a re-examination, be deemed of no 
consequence. Those may serve to illustrate a gener- 
dl observation, which are scarcely worth notice as 
subjects cither of censure or of praise. Nor is there 
anything in this book which, in his opinion, will crt- 
ite even the smallest difficulty to persons accustomed 
to inquire into the faculties of the mind. Indeed, the 
much greater part ol it will, he is persuaded, be level 
to the capacity of dl those readers (not, perhaps, the 
nriost numerous clas^) who think reflection of some use 
in rea .ing, and who do not read merely with the inten- 
tion of killing time. 

He begs leave to add, that though his subject be 
Eloquence, yet, as the nature of his work is didactical, 
wherein the understanding only is addressed, the stylo 


m gcueral admits no higher qualities than jmrity and 
perspicuity. These were, therefore, his highest aim. 
The best ornaments out of place are not only unbe 
coming, but ofiensive. Nor can anything be farthei 
fi'om his thoughts than to pretend to an exemption from 
such positive faults in expression, as, on the article of 
elocution, he hath so freely criticised in the best Eng 
lish authors. He is entirely sensible that an impropri 
ety or other negligence in style will escape the notice 
of the writer, which hardly escapes that of anybody 
?lse. Next to the purpose of illustrating the principles 
and canons which ne here submits to the judgment of 
the public, the two following motives weighed most 
with the author in inducing him to use so much free- 
dom in regard to the writings of those for whom he 
has the highest veneration. One is, to she w that we 
ought in writing, as in other things, carefully to bev/are 
of implicit attachment and servile imitation, :ven when 
\hey seem to be claimed by the most celebrai ed names. 
The other is, to evince that we are in dange r of doing 
great injustice to a work by deciding hastily on its 
merit from a collection of such oversights. 1/ the critic 
be rigorous in marking whatever is amiss in this way, 
what author may abide the trial ? But though such 
slips are not to be regarded as the sole or even princi- 
pal test of demerit in literary productions, they ought 
not to be altogether overlooked. Whatever is faulty 
in any degree it were better to avoid. And there are 
consequences regarding the language in general, as 
well as the success of particular works, which should 
preserve verbal criticism from being considered as be- 
neath the attention of any author. An author, so far 
from having reason to be oflended, is doubtless obliged 
to the man who, free from captious petulance, candidh 
points out his errors, of what kind soever they le 




CIIAP I. Eloquence in tho lar^fst Acceptance defined, its more general Foim* 

ex. il tod, with their different Ohjects, Ends, and Characters 23 

CIIAP n Of Wit, Humour, and Ridicule 30 

Sect. I. Of Wit vb. 

Sect. 11. Of Humour 37 

Sect. Ml. Of Ridicule 42 

CHAP. III. The Doctrine of the precediiii,' Chajiter defended 49 

Sect. I. Aristotle's Account of Me iti<iicu/oui explained ib. 

Sect. II. Holibcs's Account of Laughter examined 50 

HHAP. I v. Of the Relation which Eloquence bears to Logic and to Grammar.. 54 
'."HAP. v. Of the different Sources of Evidence, and the different Subjects to 

which they arc respectively adapted 57 

Sect. I. Of Intuitive Evidence ib 

Part I. Mathematical Axioms t& 

Part II. Consciousness 59 

Part HI. Common Sense 60 

Sect. II. Of Deductive Evidence 65 

Part I. Division of the Subject into Scientific and Moral, with the principal 

DiNlinctions lictween them ib 

Part II The Nature and Origin of Experience 69 

Part III. The Subdivisions of Moral Reasoning 70 

1 . Experience 72 

2. Analogy 75 

3. Testimony 76 

4. Calculations of Chances 78 

Part IV. The Superiority of Scientific Evidence re-examined 80 

;IIAP. VI. Of the Nature and Use of the scholastic Art of Syllogizing 83 

CHAP. VII. Of the Consideration which the Speaker ought to have of the Hear- 
ers as Men in general 93 

Sect. I. As emlowed with Understanding 95 

Sect. II. As endowed with Imagination ib 

Sect. III. As endowed with Memory 97 

Sect. IV. As endowed with Passions 99 

■ject. V. The Circumstances that are chiefly instrumental in operating on 

the Passions 103 

Part I. Probability 104 

Part 11. Plausibility ib 

Part III. Importance 108 

Part IV. Proximity of Time 109 

Part V. Connexion of Place 110 

Part V!. Relation to the Persons concerned Ill 

Part VII. Intcregt in the Consequences. ib. 

Sect. VI. Other Passions, as well as Moral Sentiments, useful Auxiliaries... 112 

Sect. VII. How an unfavourable P"ission must be calmed 115 

illAP. Vlll. Of the Consideration which the Speaker ought to have of the Ileai- 

e'S as such Men in particular 117 

iJHA."' IX. Of the Consideration which the Speaker ought vo have of himself . 113 
CHAP. X. The different Kinds of public Speaking in use among the Modems, 

con. pared with a View to their different Advantages in respect of Eloquence 121 

Sect. I. In regard to the Speaker ib. 

Sect. II. In regard to the Persons addressed 124 

Sect. HI. In regard to the Subject 120 

Sect. IV. In recard to the Occasion 12S 



Sect. V. In regard tu tlie End in view • •• 13C 

CHAP. XI. Of the Cause of that Pleasure which we receive from Otjfcirj of 

Representations that excite Pitv and ulher painful Feelings 134 

Sect. I. The different Solutions hitherto given by Philosophers, eramined... )3d 

Part I. The first Hypothesis »*■ 

Part H. The second Hypothesis 137 

PartHI. The third Hypothesis 140 

Part IV. The fourth Hypothesis Hi 

S^CT. H. The Author's Hypothesis on this Subject Hi 



CflAP. I. The Nature and Characters of the Use which gives Law to Language 163 

Sbct. I. Reputable Use 164 

Sect. II. National Use lOS 

Sect. III. Present Use 170 

CHAP. II. The Nature and lf»c of Verbal Criticism, with its principal Canons. 174 

Sect. I. Good Use not always Uniform in her Decisions 170 

Canon the First 177 

Canon the Second 179 

Canon the Third 181 

Ca lion the Fou rih ib. 

Canon the Fifth 183 

Sect. II. Everything favoured by good U«e, not on that Account worthy to be 

retained 1S3 

Canon the Sixth IM 

Canon the Seventh 187 

Canon the Eighth 16f 

Caiion the Ninth 18 

CHAP. HI. Of grammatical Purity 19J 

Sect. I. The Barbarism ib. 

Part I. By the Use of oljsolete Words ib. 

Part ir. Hy the Use of new Words 195 

Part III. iiy the Use of good Words new mrdellod 197 

Sect. II. The Solecism 203 

Sect. III. The Impropriety 213 

Part !. Impropriety in single Words ib. 

Part II. Impropriety in Phrases 224 

CHAP. IV. Some grammatical Uoubts in regmrd to English Construction atmted 

and examined 227 

CHAP. V. Of the Qualities of Style strictly RhetoricU 237 

CHAP. VI. or P<;rspicuity 239 

■^ Sect. I. The Obscure ib. 

Part I. From Defect ib. 

Part II. From bad Arrangement 242 

Part III. From using the same Word in diflerent Senses 245 

Part IV. From an uncertain Reference in Pronouns and Relatirea 246 

Part V. From too Artificial a Structure of the Sentence 247 

Part VI. From technical Terms ib 

Part VH. From long Sentences 248 

Sect. II. The double Meaning 349 

Part I. Equivocation ti. 

Part 11. Ambiguity. 243 

Sect. 111. The Unintelligible 2M 

Part 1 From Confusion of Thought ib. 

Part II. From Affectation of Excellence S«8 

Part HI. From Want of Meaning 270 

Under this the various Kiids of Nonsense : 

1. The Puerile 27 j 

2. The Learned 273 

3. The Profound ' J7J 

4. Th.-! Marvellous 27J 

CHAP. VH. What is the Cause that Nonsense so often escapes being detected, 

both liy the vV riter and by the Render ? 7. 278 

Sect. I. The Nature and Power of Signs, both in speaking and in tliinking. . t*. 

Sect. II. The Appl.cation ol the preceding Prnciples V^ 



;nAP. V)M. Tlie eiienaive \fsefulness of Perspicuity 29J 

Sect . I. When is Obscurity apposite, if ever it be apposite, and what kiiiiJ '. tb 

Sect. II. Objections answered 300 

CIIAP. IX. May there not be an Excess of Perspicuity? 305 



CHAP 1. Of Vivacity as depending on the Choice of Words 307 

Slot. I. Proper Terms xb. 

Sect. II. Rhetorical Tropes 315 

Part I. Preliminary Observations concerning Tropes ib. 

Part II. The different Sorts of Tropes conducive to Vivacity 321 

1 . The Less for the more General ib. 

3. The most interesting Circumstance distinguished 323 

3. Things Sensible for things Intelligible 335 

4. Thint;s Animate for things Lifeless 327 

Part III. The Use of those Tropes which are obstructive to Vivacity 331 

Sect. III. Words considered as Sounds 335 

Part I. What are arliculato Sounds capable of imitating, and in what Degree ? 339 
Part II. In what Esteem ought this Kind of Imitation to be held, and when 

ought it to be attempted 1 351 

CHAP. II. Of Vivacity as depending on the Number of the Words 353 

Sect. I. This Quality explained and exempliAed ib. 

Sect. II. The principal Offences against Brevity considered 358 

Part I. Tautology ih. 

I'art 1 1 . Pleonasm ^GO 

Part HI. Verbosity dt>3 

CHAP. 111. Of Vivacity as depending on the Arrangement of the Words 372 

Sect. I. Of the Nature of Arrangement, and the principal Division of Senten- 
ces ih. 

Sect. II. Simple Sentences • 374 

Sect. III. Complex Sentences 38t 

Part I. Subdivision of these into Periods and loose Seacenocs ib. 

Part II. Observations on Periods, and on the Use of Antithesis in the Compo- 
sition of Sentences 393 

Part III. Observations on loose Sentences 401 

Part IV. Review of what has been deduced above in regard to Arrangement 403 
CHAP. IV. Of the Connectives employed in combining the Parts of a Sentence 404 

Sect. I. Of Conjunctions 405 

Sect. II. Of other Connectives 411 

Sect. III. Modem Languages compared with Greek and Latin, particularly in 

regard to the Composition of Sentences 419 

I'HAP. V. Of the Connectives employed in combining the Sentences in a Dis- 
course 423 

SSCT. I. The Necessity of Connectivee for this Purpose t6 

8«ct. II. Observations on the Manner of using the Connective* in combining 
SonUunei IM 


/ All art is founded in science, and the science is of little 
'ralue which does not serve as a foundation to some benefi- 
cial art. On the most sublime of all sciences, theology and 
tthics, is built the most important of all arts, the art of living. 
The abstract matliematical sciences serve as a groundwork 
to the arts of the land-measurer and the accountant ; and in 
conjunction with natural philosophy, including geography and 
astronomy, to those of the architect, the navigator, the dial- 
ist, and many others. Of what consequence anatomy is to 
surgery, and that part of physiology which leaches the laws 
of gravitation and of motion, is to the artificer, is a mattei 
too obvious to need illustration. The general remark might, 
if necessary, be exemplified throughout the whole circle of 
arts, both useful and elegant. Valuable knowledge, there- 
fore, always leads to some practical skill, and is perfected 
in it. On the other hand, the practical skill loses much of 
its beauty and extensive utility which does not originate in 
knowledge. There is, by consequence, a natural relation be- 
tween the sciences and the arts, like that which subsists be- 
»,ween the parent and the offspring. 

I acknowledge, indeed, that these are sometimes unnatu- 
rally separated ; and that by the mere influence of example 
on the one hand, and imitation on the other, some progress 
may be made in an art, without the knowledge of the princi- 
ples from which it sprang. By the help of a few rules, which 
men are taught to use mechanicallj% a good practical arith- 
metician may be formed, who neither knows the reasons on 
wiiich the rules he works by were first established, nor ever 
thmks it of any moment to inquire into them. In like man- 
ner, we frequently meet with expert artisans, who are igno- 
rant of the six mechanical powers, which, though in the ex- 
ercise of their profession they daily employ, they do not un- 
derstand tlic principles wliereby, in any instance, the result 
of their application is ascertained. The propagation of the 
arts may therefore be compared more Justly to that variety 
which takes place in the vegetable kingdom, than to the uni- 
formity which obtains universally in the animal world ; for, 
•ds to the anomalous race of zoopliytes, I do not comprehend 
them in the number. It is not always necessary that the 
plant spring from the seed, a slip from another plant will oft- 
en answer the purpose. 

'l'l!«'re is, however, a very ronsi.Jerable difference in iIip 


expectations that may justly be raised from the differem 
methods followed in the acquisition of tlie art. Improve- 
ments, unless in extraordinary instances of genius and sa- 
gacity, are not to be expected from those who have acquired 
all their dexterity from imitation and habit. One who has 
had an education no better than that of an ordinary mechan- 
ic, may prove an excellent manual operator; but it is only 
la the well-instructed mechanician that you would expect to 
find a good machinist. The analogy to vegetation above 
suggested holds here also. The olfset is commonly no 
more than a mere copy of the parent plant. It is from the 
seed only you can expect, with the aid of proper culture, to 
produce new varieties, and even to make improvements on 
ihe species. " Expert men," says Lord Bacon, •' can execute 
and judge of particulars, one by one ; but the general coun- 
cils, and the plots and marshalling of afiairs. come best from 
tiiose that are learned." 

Indeed, in almost every art, even as used by mere practi- 
tioners, tliere are certain rules, as hath been already hinted, 
which must carefully be followed, and which serve the artist 
instead of principles. An acquaintance w-ith these is one 
step, and but one step, towards science. Thus, in the com- 
mon books of arithmetic, intended solely for practice, the 
rules laid down for the ordinary operations, as for numera- 
tion, or numerical notation, addition, subtraction, multiplica 
tion, division, and a few others, which are sufficient for all 
the purposes of the accountant, serve instead of principles : 
and, to a superficial observer, may be thought to supersede 
the study of anything farther. But their utility reaches a 
very little way, compared with that which results from the 
knowledge of the foundations of the art, and of what has been, 
not unfitly, styled arithmetic universal. It may be justly said 
that, without some portion of this knowledge, the practical 
rules had never been invented. Besides, if by these the par- 
ticular questions which come exactly within the description 
of the rule may be solved, by the other such general rules 
themselves, as serve for the solution of endless particulars, 
may be discovered. 

The case, 1 own, is somewhat different with those arts 
which are entirely founded on experiment and observation, 
and are not derived, like pure mathematics, from abstract and 
universal axioms. But even in these, when we rise from the 
individual to the species, from the species to the genus, and 
thence to the most extensive orders and classes, we arrive 
though in a ditierent wa)%atthe knowledge of general truths, 
which, in a certain sense, are also scientific, and answer a 
similar purpose. Our acquaintance with nature and its laws 
is so much extended, that we shall be enabled, in numberless 
eases, not only to apply to the most profitable purposes the 


fciiowledge we have thus acquired, but to determine before 
hand, with sufficient certainty, the success of every new ap. 
plication. In this progress we are like people who, from a 
low and narrow bottom, where the view is confined to a few 
acres, gradually ascend a lofty peak or promontory. The 
prospect is perpetually enlarging as we mount ; and when 
we reach the sumit, the boundless horizon, comprehending 
»11 the variety of sea and land, hill and valley, town and coun- 
try, arable and desert, lies under the eye at once. 

Those who in medicine have scarcely risen to the disceni- 
ment of any general principles, and have no other directory 
but the experiences gained in the first and lowest stage, or 
as it were, at the foot of the mountain, are commonly distin- 
guished by the name of empirics. Something similar maybe 
said to obtain in the other liberal arts; for in all of them 
more enlargement of mind is necessary than is required for 
the exercise of those called mechanical. The character di- 
rectly opposite to the empiric is the visionarj/ ; for it is not in 
theology only that there are visionaries. Of the two ex- 
tremes, I acknowledge that the latter is the worse. The first 
founds upon facts, but the facts are few, and commonly in his 
reasonings, through his imperfect knowledge of the subject, 
misapplied. The second often argues very consequentially 
from principles, which., having no foundation in nature, may 
justly be denominated the illegitimate issue of his own ima- 
gination. He in this resembles the man of science, that he 
acts systematically, for there are false as well as true theo- 
rists, and is influenced by certain general propositions, real 
or imaginary. Out the difference lies here, that in the one 
they are real, in the other imaginary. The system ot the 
one is reared on the firm basis of experience, the theory of 
the other is no better than a castle in the air. I mention 
characters only in the extreme, because in this manner they 
are best discriminated. In real life, however, any two of 
these, sometimes all the three, in various proportions, may 
be found blended in the same person. 

The arts are frequently divided into the useful, and the po- 
lite, fine, or elegant : for these words are, in this application, 
used synonymously. This division is not coincident with 
tliatinto the mechanical and the liberal. Physic, navigation, 
and the art of war, though properly liberal arts, fall entirely 
under the denomination of the useful ; whereas painting and 
sculpture, though requiring a good deal of manual labour, and 
in that respect more nearly related to the mechanical, belong 
to tlie class denominated elegant. The first division arises 
purely from the consideration of the end to be attained, the 
second from tlie consideration of the means to be employed. 
In respect of the end, an art is either useful or elegant ; in 
resnect of the means, it is either mechanical or liberal. Th« 


true foundation of the former distribution is, that certain aria 
are manifesl?y and ultimately calculated for profit or use ; 
while others, on the contrary, seem to terminate in pleasing. 
The one supplies a real want, the other only gratifie? some 
mental taste. Yet in strictness, in the execution of t':e use- 
ful arts, there is often scope for elegance, and the arts called 
elegant are by no means destitute of use. The principal dif- 
ference is, that use is the direct and avowed purpose of the 
former, whereas it is more latently and indirectly effected by 
the latter. Under this cbss are commonly included, not only 
the arts of the painter and the statuary, but those also of the 
musician and the poet. Eloquence and architecture, by which 
last term is always understood more than building merely 
for accommodation, are to be considered as of a mixed na- 
ture, wherein utility and beauty have almost equal influence. 
The elegant arts, as well us the useful, are founded in ex- 
perience ; but from the difTerence of their nature, there arises 
a considerable ditTcrencc botli in tlieir origin and in their 
growth. Necessity, the mother of invention, drives men, in 
ihe earliest state of society, to the study and cultivation of 
the useful arts ; it is ahvays leisure and abundance which lead 
men to seek gratifications no way conducive to the preserva- 
tion either of the individual or of the species. The elegant 
arts, therefore, are doubtless to be considered as the younger 
sisters. The progress of the former towards perfection is, 
however, much slower than that of the latter. Indeed, with 
regard to the first, it is impossible to say, as to several arts, 
what is the perfection of the art ; since we are incapable of 
conceiving how far the united discernment and industry of 
men, properly applied, may yet carry them. For some cen- 
turies backward, the men of every age have made great and 
unexpected improvements on the labours of their predeces- 
sors. And it is very probable that the subsequent age will 
produce discoveries and acquisitions, which we of this age 
are as little capable of foreseeing, as those who preceded us 
in the last century were capable of conjecturing the progress 
that would be made in the present. The case is not entirely 
similar in the fine arts. These, though later in their appear- 
ing, are more rapid in their advancement. There may, in- 
deed, be in these a degree of perfection beyond what we have 
experienced ; but we have some conception of the very ut- 
most to which it can proceed. For instance, where resem- 
blance is the object, as in a picture or a statue, a perfect con- 
formity to its archetype is a thing at least conceivable. In 
like manner, the utmost pleasure of which the imagination is 
susceptible by a poetical narrative or exhibition is a thing, in 
my judgment, not inconceivable. We Britons, for example, 
do. by immense degrees, excel the ancient Greeks in the arts 
■)f navigatiou and ship-building; and how much farther w 


may slili excel them in these, by means of discoveries and 
improvements yet to be made, it would be the gi'eatest pre- 
Bumption in any man to say. But as it requires not a pro- 
plielic spirit to discover, it implies no presumption to affirm, 
Uiat we shall never excel ihem so far in poetry and eloquence, 
if ever in these respects we come to equal liiem. The same 
thing might probably be affirmed in regard to painting, sculp- 
ture, and music, if we had here as ample a fund of materials 
for forming a comparison. 

But let it be observed, that the remarks now made regard 
only the advancement of the arts themselves ; for though the 
useful are of slower growth than the other, and their utmost 
perfection cannot always be so easily ascertained, yet the 
acquisition of any one of them by a learner, in the perfection 
which it has reached at the time, is a much easier matter 
than the acquisition of any of the elegant arts ; besides 
tiiat the latter require much more of a certain happy combi- 
nation in the original frame of spirit, commonly called genius, 
than is necessary in the other. 

Let it be observed farther, that as the gratification of taste 
is the immediate object of the fine arts, their effect is in a 
manner instantaneous, and the quality of any new production 
in these is immediately judged by everybody, for all have 
in them some rudiments of taste, though in some they are 
improved by a good, in others corrupted by a bad education, 
and in others almost suppressed by a total want of education. 
In the useful arts, on the contrary, as more time and expe- 
rience are requisite for discovering the means by which our 
accommodation is effected, so it generally requires examina- 
tion, time, and trial, that we may be satisfied of the fitness of 
the work for the end proposed. In these we are not so near 
apt to consider ourselves as judges, unless we be either 
artists, or accustomed to employ and examine the works of 
artists in that particular profession. 

I mentioned some arts that have their fundamental princi- 
ples in the abstract sciences of geometry and arithmetic, and 
some in the doctrine of gravitation and motion. There are 
others, as the medical and chirurgical arts, which require a 
still broader foundation of science in anatomy, the animal 
economy, natural history, diseases and remedies. Those 
arts, which, like poetry, are p«rely to be ranked among the 
elegant, as their end is attained by an accommodation to 
some internal taste, so the springs by which alone they can 
be regulated must be sought for in the nature of the human 
mind, and more especially in the principles of the imagina- 
tion. It is also in the human mind that we must investigate 
the source of some of the useful arts. Logic, whose end is 
the discovery of truth, is founded in the doctrine of the un 
derstanding ; and ethics under whicli may be comprehended 



economics, politics, and jurisprudence, are founded ir. that 
of the will. 

This was the idea of Lord Verulam,* perhaps the most 
comprehensive genius in philosophy that has appeared in 
moJern times. But these are not the only arts which have 
their foundation in the science of human nature. Grammar, 
.00, in its general principles, has a close connexion with the 
understanding, and the theory of the association of ideas. 

But theve is no art whatever that has so close a connexion 
with all the faculties and powers of the mind as eloquence, 
or the art of speaking, iu the extensive sense in which I em- 
ploy the term. For, in the first place, that it ought to be 
ranked among the polite or fine arts, is manifest from this, 
that in all its exertions, with little or no exception (as will 
appear afterward), it requires tiie aid of the imagination. 
'J'hereby it not only pleases, but by pleasing commands atten- 
tion, rouses the passions, and often at last subdues the most 
stubborn resolution. It is also a useful art. This is cer- 
tainly the case, if the power of speech be a useful faculty, as 
it professedly teaches us how to employ that faculty with 
the greatest probability of success. Farther, if the logical 
art and the ethical be useful, .eloquence is useful, as it in- 
structs us how these arts, must be applied for the conviction 
and persuasion of others. It is, indeed, the grand art of com- 
munication, not of ideas only, but of sentiments, passions, 
dispositions, and purposes. Nay, without this, the greatest 
talents, even wisdom itself, lose much of their lustre, and 
still more of their usefulness. The toise in heart, sailh Solo- 
mon, shall he called prudent, but the sweetness of the lips in- 
creaseth learning.^ By the former, a man's own conduct may 
be well regulated, but the latter is absolutely necessary for 
diff"using valuable knowledge, and enforcing right rules of 
action upon others. 

Poetry, indeed, is properly no other than a particular mode 
or form of certain branches of oratory. But of this more 
afterward. Suffice it only to remark at present, that the di 
rect end of the former, whether to delight the fancy as in epic, 
or to move the passions as in tragedy, is avowedly in part the 
aim, and sometimes the immediate and proposed aim, of the 
orator. The same medium, language, is made use of, the same 
general rules of composition, in narration, description, a.'gu- 

* Doctrina circa intellectual, atqne ilia altera circa voluntatem homii s, in 
natalibus suis tanquam gemellae sunt. Et enim illuminationis puriias et 
arbitrii libertas simul inceperunt, siinul corruenint. Neque datur in uni 
versitate rerum tam intima syrnpathia qiiam ilia Veri et Boni. Venimuj ad doclrinam circa usuin et objecla facultatem aniinae humanx. Ills 
'Juas habet partes easque nolissimas, et consensu receptas ; Logicam el 
Ethicam. Logica de intellectii et ratione ; Elhica de voluntate, appetitu, 
<st affectibus disserit. Altera decreta, altera actionea progignit. — De Aug 
Sci 1 v.. c i. + Prof , xvi.. '<il 


mentation, are observed ; and the same tropes and figires, 
either for beautifying or for invigorating the diction, are em- 
ployed by both. In regard to versification, it is more to bo 
considered as an appendage than as a constituent of poetry, 
in this lies what may be called the more mechanical part ol 
the poet's work, being at most but a sort of garnishing, and 
by far too unessential to give a designation to the kind. This 
particularity in form, to adopt an expression of the naturalists, 
constitutes only a variety, and not a different species. 

Now, though a considerable proficiency in the practice ol 
the oratorical art may be easily and almost naturally attained, 
by one in whom clearness of apprehension is happily united 
with sensibility of taste, fertility of imagination, and a certain 
readiness in language, a more thorough investigation of the 
latent energies, if 1 may thus express myself, whereby the 
instrumer.ts employed by eloquence produce their effect 
upon the hearers, will serve considerably both to improve 
their taste, and to enrich the fancy. By the former effect 
we learn to amend and avoid faults in composing and speak- 
ing, against which the best natural, but uncultivated parts, 
give no security ; and by the latter, the proper mediums are 
suggested, whereby the necessary aids of topics, arguments, 
illustrations, and motives may be procured. Besides, this 
study, properly conducted, leads directly lo an acquaintance 
with ourselves ; it not only traces the operations of the intel- 
lect and imagination, but discloses the lurking springs ol 
action in the heart. In this view,/ it is perhaps the surest 
and the shortest, as well as the pleasantest way of arriving 
at the science of the human mind. It is as an humble attempt 
to lead the mind of the studious inquirer into this track tha*. 
the following sheets are now submitted to the examination c> 
the public. 

When we consider the manner in which the rhetorical an 
hath arisen, and been treated in the schools, we must be 
sensible that in this, as in the imitative arts, the first handle 
has been given to criticism by actual performances in the 
art. The principles of our nature will, without the aid of 
any previous and formal instruction, sufficiently account for 
the first attempts. As speakers existed before grammarians, 
and reasoners before logicians, so, doubtless, there were ora- 
Vt(iP8-before there were rhetoricians, and poets before critics. ' 
The first impulse towards the attainment of every art is from 
nature. The earliest assistance and direction that can be 
obtained in the rhetorical art, by which men operate on the 
minds of others, arises from the consciousness a man has of 
wliat operates on his own mind, aided by the symoathetic 
feelmgs, and by that practical experience of mankina which 
individuals, even in the rudest state of society, are capable of 
dcquiring. The next step is to observe and discriminate, by 


Droper appellations, the different attempts, whether modes ol 
arguing oV forms of speech, that have been employed for 
the purposes of explaining, convincing, pleasing, moving, and 
persuading. Here we have the beginnings of the critical 
science. The third step is to compare, with diligence, the 
various effects, favourable or unfavourable, of those attempts, 
carefully taking into consideration every attendant circum- 
stance by which the success appears to have been influenced, 
and by which one may be enabled to discover to what partic- 
ular purpose each attempt is adapted, and in what circum- 
stances only to be used. The fourth and last is to canvass 
those principles in our nature to which the various attempts 
are adapted, and by which, in any instance, their success, or 
want of success, may be accounted for. By the first step 
the critic is supplied with materials. By the second, the 
materials ar.e distributed and classed, the f orms of a rgujnenl, 
the tropes an^ figures of speech, with Ihelr divisions and sub- 
divisions, are e xplained . By the third, the rules of composi- 
tion are discovered, or tlie method of combining and disposing 
the several materials, so as that they may be perfectly adapted 
to the end in view. By the fourth, we arrive at that knowl- 
edge of human nature which, besides its other advantages, 
adds both weight and evidence to all precedent discoveries 
and rules. 

The second of the steps above mentioned, which, by-the- 
way, is the first of the rhetorical art, for all that precedes is 
properly supplied by Nature, appeared to the author of Hudi- 
bras the utmost pitch that had even to his time been attained 

" For all a rhetorician's rules 
Teach nothing but to name his tools."* 

In this, however, the matter hath been exaggerated by the 
satirist. Considerable progress had been made by the an 
cient Greeks and Romans in devising the proper ru4es of 
composition, not only in the two sorts of poesy, epic and 
dramatic, but also in the three sorts of orations which were 
in most frequent use among them, the deliberative, the jur'i- 
ciary, and the demonstrative. And I must acknowledge that, 
as far as I have been able to discover, there has been little 
or no improvement in this respect made by the moderns. 
The observations and rules transmitted to us from these dis- 
tinguished names in the learned world, Aristotle, Cicero, and 
Quintilian, have been for the most part only translated by 
later critics, or put into a modish dress and new arrange- 
m(!nt And as to the fourth and last step, it may be said to 
bring us into a new country, of which, though there have 
oaen some successful incursions occasionally made upon ii.-" 
fiontiers, we aie not yet in full possession. 

* Part 1 . canto 1. 


Tne performance which, of all those I hf.ppen to be ac- 
quainted with, seems to have advanced farthest in this way 
is the Elements of Criticism. But the suoject of the learned 
and ingenious author of that work is rather too multifarious 
to admit so narrow a scrutiny as would be necessary for a 
perfect knowledge of the several parts. Everything that if 
an object of taste, sculpture, painting, music, architecture, and 
gardening, as well as poetry and eloquence, come within hit 
pan. On the other hand, though his subject be more multi 
form, it is, in respect of its connexion with the mind, losf 
extensive than that here proposed. All those particular art? 
are examined only on that side wherein there is found a pret- 
ty cons'iderable coincidence with one another; namely, as 
objects of taste, which, by exciting sentiments of grandeur, 
beauty, novelty, and the like, are calculated to delight the im- 
agination. In this view, eloquence comes no farther undei 
consideration than as a fine art, and adapted, like the other 
above mentioned, to please the fancy and to move the pas- 
^iions. But to treat it also as a useful art, and closely con- 
nected with the understanding and the will, would have led 
to a discussion foreign to his purpose. 

I am awire that, from the deduction given above, it may 
be urged tliat the fact, as here represented, seems to subvert 
the principle formerly laid down, and that as practice in the 
art has given tlie first scope for criticism, the former cannot 
justly be considered as deriving light and direction from the 
latter; that, on the contrary, the latter ought to be regarded 
as merely affording a sort of intellectual entertainment to 
speculative men. It may be said that this science, howevei 
entertaining, as it must derive all its light and information 
from the actual examples in the art, can never, in return, be 
subservient to the art, from which alone it has received 
whatever it has to bestow. This objection, however spe- 
cious, will not bear a near examination ; for let it be observ 
cd, that thougli in all the arts the first rough draughts or im- 
perfect attempts that are made precede everything that can 
be termed criticism, they do not precede everything that can 
be termed knowledge, which every human creature that is 
not an idiot is every day, from his birth, acquiring by expe- 
rience and observation. This knowledge must of necessity 
precede even those rudest and earliest essays ; and if in the 
imperfect and indigested state in which knowledge must al- 
ways be found in the mind that is rather self-taught than to- 
tally untaught, it deserves not to be dignified with the title 
of Science, neither does the first awkward attempt in prac- 
tice merit to be honoured with the name of Art. As is the 
one, such is the other. It is enough for my purpose that 
something'must be known, before anything in this way. v/itb 
a view to an end, can be undertaken to be done 


At the same lime it is acknowledged that, as man is much 
more an active than a contemplative being, and as generally 
there is some view to action, especially in uncultivated minds, 
in all their observations and inquiries, it cannot be doubted 
that, in composition, the first attempts would be in the art, 
and that aiterward, from the comparison of different attempts 
with one another, and the consideration of the success with 
which they had been severally attended, would arise gradu- 
ally the rules of criticism. Nor can it, on the other hand, be 
pleaded with any app-^arance of truth, that observations de- 
rived from the productions of an art, can be of no service for 
^he improvement of that art, and, consequently, of no benefit 
to future artists. On the contrary, it is thus that every art, 
liberal or mechanical, elegant or useful, except those founded 
in pure mathematics, advances towards perfection. From 
observing similar, but different attempts and experiments 
and from comparing their effects, general remarks are made, 
which serve as so many rules for directing future practice; 
and from comparing such general reniarks together, others 
still more general are deduced. A few individual instances 
serve as a foundation to those observations, which, when 
once sufficiently established, extend their influence to instan- 
ces innumerable. It is in this way that, on experiments 
comparatively few, all the physiological sciences have been 
reared ; it is in this way that those comprehensive truths 
were first discovered which have had such an unlimited influ- 
ence on the most important arts, and given man so vast a 
dominion over the elements, and even the most refractory 
powers of nature. It is evident, therefore, that the artist and 
the critic are reciprocally subservient, and the particular prov- of each is greatly improved by the assistance of the 

But it is not necessary here to enter farther into this sub- 
ject ; what I shall have occasion afterward to advance on 
the acquisition of experience, and the manner of using it 
^ill be a sufficient il ustration. 






Kloquence in the largest acceptation defined, its more general forma ezhib 
iled, with their different objects, ends, and characters. 

In speaking, there is always some end proposed, or some 
effect wliich the speaker intends to produce in the hearer 
, The word eloquence, in its greatest latitude, denotes " that art 
or talent by which the discourse is adapted to its end."* 

All the ends of speaking are reducible to four ; every speech 
being intended to enlighten the understanding, to please the 
imagination, to move the passions, or to influence the will. 

Any one discourse admits only one of these ends as the 
principal. Nevertheless, in discoursing on a subject, many 
things may be introduced which arc more immediately and 
apparently directed to some of the other ends of speaking, 
and not to that which is the chief intent of the whole. But 
then these other and immediate ends are in effect but means, 
and must be rendered conducive to that which is the primary 
intention. Accordingly, the propriety or the impropriety of 
the introduction of such secondary ends will always be in- 
ferred from their subserviency or want of subserviency to 
that end which is, in respect of them, the ultimate. For ex- 
ample, a discourse addressed to the understanding, and cal- 
culated to illustrate or evince some point purely speculative, 
may borrow aid from the imagination, and admit metaphor 
and comparison, but not the bolder and more striking fig- 
ures, as that called vision or fiction,! prosopopoeia, and the 

♦ " Dicere secundum virtutem orationis. Scientia bene dicendi." — 
Quintilian. The word eloquence, in common conversation, is seldom used 
in such a compr?hensive sense. I have, however, made choice of thia 
definition on a double account : 1st. It exactly corresponds to Tully's ide* 
of a perfect orator : " Optimus est orator qui dicendo animos audientium et 
docet, et delectat, et permovet." 2dly. It is best adapted to the subject of 
these papers. Sec the note on page 26. 

t Py vision or fiction is understood that rheti-'rical figure of which Quin 
tiitaii says, " Quas ^airaaiaf Graec i v xrant, nos san6 niiiones appellamua 


ike, which are not so much intended to elucidate a subject 
as to excite admiration. Still less will it admit an address 
to the passions, which, as it never fails to disturb the opera- 
tion of the intellectual faculty, must be regarded by every 
intelligent hearer as foreign at least, if not insidious. It i.i 
obvious that either of these, far from being subservient to 
the main design, would distract the attention from it. 

There is, indeed, one kind of address to the understanding, 
and only one, which, it may not be improper to observe, dis- 
dains all assistance whatever from the fancy. The address 
1 mean is mathematical demonstration. As this doth not, 
like moral reasoning, admit degrees of evidence, its perfec- 
tion in point of eloquence, if so uncommon an application of 
the term may be allowed, consists in perspicuity. Perspi- 
cuity here results entirely from propriety and simplicity of 
diction, and from accuracy of method, where the mind is reg- 
ularly, step by step, conducted forward in the same track, 
the attention no way diverted, nothing left to be supplied, no 
one unnecessary word or idea introduced.* On the contrary, 
an harangue framed for affecting the hearts or intlucncing the 
resolves of an assembly, needs greatly the assistance both ol 
intellect and of imagination. 

In general, it may be asserted that each preceding species, 
u\ the order above exhibited, is preparatory to the subsequent ; 
that each subsequent species is founded on the preceding; 
and that thus tliey ascend in a regular progression. Knowl- 
edge, the object of tlie intellect, furnisheth materials for the 
fancy ; the fancy culls, compounds, and, by her mimic art. 
disposes these materials so as to affect the passions ; the 
passions are the natural spurs to volition or action, and sc 
need only to be rightly directed. This connexion and de- 
pendancy will better appear from the following observations. 

When a speaker addresses himself to the understanding, 
he proposes the instruction of his hearers, and that, either bj 
explaining some doctrine unknown, or not distinctly compre- 
hended by them, or by proving some position disbelieved oi 
doubted by them. In other words, he proposes either to dis- 
pel ignorance or to vanquish error. In the one, his aim if 
their information; in the other, their coni'jc/ion. Accordingly, 
the predominant quality of the former is persvicmty ; of the 

per qnas imagines rerum absentium ita repraesentantur animo, ut f.iB ce»- 
iiere oculis ac prassentes habere videamur." 

♦ Of this kind Euclid hath given us the most perfect models, which Iiit« 
not, I think, been sufficiently imitated by later mathematicians. In lim 
you find the exactest arrangement inviolably observed, the propereat an<' 
simplest, and, by consequence, the plainest expressions constantly lised, 
nothing deficient, nothing superfluous ; in brief, nothing which in more, oj 
fewer, or other words, or words othervrise disposed, could have been better 


latter, argument. By that we are made to know, by this to 

The imagination is addressed by exhibiting to it a lively 
and beautiful representation of a suitable object. As in this 
exiiibition the task of the orator may, in some sort, be said, 
like that of the painter, to consist in imitation, the merit of 
the work results entirely from these two sources : dignity^ 
as well in the subject or thing imitated as in the manner of 
imitation, and resemblance in the portrait or performance. 
Now the principal scope for this class being in narration and 
lescrii)tion, poetry, which is one mode of oratory, especially 
jpic poetry, must be ranked under it. The effect of the 
Iramatic, at least of tragedy, being upon the passions, the 
Irama falls under anollier species, to be explained afterward. 
But that kind of address of which I am now treating attains 
the summit of perfection in the sublime, or those great anu 
noble images which, when in suitaule colouring presented to 
the mind, do, as it were, distend the imagination with some 
vast conception, and quite ravish the soul. 

The sublime, it may be urged, as it raiseth admiration, 
should be considered as one species of address to the pas- 
sions. But this objection, when examined, will appear su- 
perficial. Tiiere are few words in any language (particularly 
such as relate to the operations and feelings of the mind) 
which are strictly univocal. Thus, admiration, when per- 
sons are the object, is commonly used for a high degree of 
esteem ; but, when otherwise applied, it denotes solely an 
internal taste. It is that pleasurable sensation which in- 
stantly arises on the perception of magnitude, or of what- 
ever is great and stupendous in its kind ; for there is a 
greatness in the degrees of quality in spiritual subjects 
analogous to that which subsists in the degrees of quantitj' 
in material things. Accordingly, in all tongues, perhaps 
without exception, the ordinary terms which are considered 
:s literally expressive of the latter, are also used promiscu- 
.Hisly to denote the former. Now admiration, when thus 
applied, doth not require to its production, as the passions 
generally do, any rellex view of motives or tendencies, or 
of any relation either to private interest or to the good of 
others ; and ought, therefore, to be numbered among those; 
original feelings of the mind, whicli are denominated by 
some the reflex senses, being of the same class with a taste 
of beauty, an ear for music, or our moral sentiments. Now 
the immediate view of whatever is directed to the imagina- 
tion (whether the subject be things inanimate or anin ial 
forms, whether characters, actions, incidents, or manne.s) 
terminates in the gratification of some internal taste ; as a 
taste for the wonderful, the fair, the good ; for elegance, for 
novelty, or for grandeur 



But it is evident that this creative faculty, the fancy, fre- 
quently lends her aid in promoting still nobler ends, i rom 
her exuberant stores most of those tropes and figures are ex- 
tracted which, when properly employed, have such a mar- 
vellous efficacy in rousing the passions, and by some secret, 
sudden, and inexplicable association, awakening all the ten- 
derest emotions of the heart. In this case, the address of 
the orator is not ultimately intended to astonish by the lofti- 
ness of iiis images, or to delight by the beauteous resemblance 
which his painting bears to nature ; nay, it will not pcmiil 
the hearers even a moment's leisure for making the compar- 
ison, but, as it were, by some magical spell, hurries them, ere 
they are aware, into love, pity, grief, terror, desire, aversion, 
fury, or hatred. It therefore assumes the denomination of 
pathetic* whicii is the characteristic of the third species of 
discourse, that addressed to the passions. 

Finally, as that kind, the most complex of all, which is 
calculated to influence the will, and persuade to a certain 
conduct, is in reality an artful mixture of that which proposes 
to convince the judgment, and that which interests the pas- 
sions, its distinguisliing excellence results from these two, 
the argumentative and the patlictic incorporated together. 
These, acting witli united force, and, if 1 may so express my- 
self, in concert, constitute that passionate eviction, that vehe- 
mence of contention, which is admirably fitted for persuasion, 
and iialh always been regarded as \hv supreme qualification 
)n an orator.f It is this which bears down every obstacle, 

* I am sensible ihat this word is commonly used in a more limited sense 
lor that only which e.xcites commiseration. Perhaps the word trnpassionea 
would answer better. 

+ This animated reasoning the Greek rhetoricians termed ^uvoTTrf, which, 
from signifying the principal excellence in an orator, came at length to de- 
note oratory itself. And as vehemence and eloquence became synonymous, 
the latter, suitably to this way of thinking, was sometimes deiined the art 
of persuasion. But that this definition is defective, appears even from their 
own writings, since, in a consistency with it, their rhetorics could have 
comprehended those orations called dtmonsiraiive, the design of which wag 
not to persuade, but to jjlcase. "i'et it is easy to discover the origin of this 
defect, and that boi.h from the nature of the thing and from the customs 
which obtained among both Greek.-s and Romans. First, from the nature 
of the thing, for to persuade presupposes in some degree, and therefore 
may be understood to imply, all the other talents of an orator, to enlighten, 
to evince, to paint, to astonish, to inflame : but this doth not hold inversely ; 
one may explain with clearness, and prove with energy, who is incipable 
of the sublime, the pathetic, and the vehement ; besides, this power jf per- 
ruasion, or, as Cicero calls it, "posse voluntates hominum impellere quo 
veils, unde velis, deducere,"' as it makes a man mast>;r of his hearers, ia 
he most considerable in respect of consequences. Secondly, from ancient 
customs All their public orations were ranked under three classes, the 
demonstrative, the judiciary, and the deliberative, in the last two it waa 
impossible to rise to eminence without that important talent, the power of 
persuasion. These were in much more frequent use than the first, a: d 
withal, the surest means of advancing both the fortune and the fame of lli* 


and procures the speaker an irresistible power over the 
thoughts and purposes of his audience. It is this which 
hath been so justly celebrated as giving one man an ascend- 
ant over others, superior even to what despotism itself can 
bestow ; since by the latter the more ignoble parts only, the 
body and its members, are enslaved ; whereas from the do- 
minion of the ft)rmer nothing is exempted, neither judgment 
nor affection, not even the inmost recesses, the most latent 
movements of the soul. What opposition is he not prepared 
to conquer on whose arms reason hath conferred solidity and 
weight, and passion such a sharpness as enables them, in 
defiance of every obstruction, to open a speedy passage to the 
heart 1 

It is not, however, every kind of pathos which will give 
the orator so gr(!at an ascendency over the minds of his 
hearers. All passions are not alike capable of producing 
this effect. Some are naturally inert and torpid ; they deject 
the mind, and indispose it for enterprise. Of this kind are 
sorrow, fear, shame, humility. Others, on the contrary, ele- 
vate tiie s(jul, and stimulate to action. Such are hope, 
patriotism, ambition, emulation, anger. These, with the 
greatest facility, arc made to concur in direction with argu 
moiits exciting to resolution and activity ; and are, conse- 
quently, the fittest for producing what, for want of a better 
term in our language, I shall henceforth denominate the vehe- 
ment. There is, besides, an intermediate kind of passions, 
which do not so congenially and directly either restrain us 
from acting or incite us to act ; but, by the art of the 
speaker, can, in an oblique manner, be made conducive to 
either. Such are joy, love, esteem, compassion. Never- 
theless, all these kinds may find a place in suasory discourses.. 
or such as are intended to operate on the will. The first is 
properest for dissuading; the second, as hath been already 
liinied, for persuading ; the third is equally accommodated to 

Guided by the above reflections, we may easily trace that 
connexion in tlie various forms of eloquence which was re- 
marked on distinguishing them by their several objects. The 
imagination is charmed by a finished picture, wherein even 
drapery and ornament are not neglected ; for here the end is 
pleasure. Would we penetrate farther, and agitate the soul, 
we must exhibit only some vivid strokes, some expressive 
features, not decorated as for show (all ostentation being 

orator; for as on the judiciary the lives and estates of private persons de- 
pended, on the deliberative hung ibe •esolves of senates, the fate of king 
doms, nay, of the most renowned lefublics the world ever knew. Cons©, 
qucnliy, to excel in these must have been the direct road to riches, honours, 
and prcl'erment. No wonder, then, that persuasion should almost whollj 
ensross the rhetorician's notice. 


both despicable and hurtful here), but such as appear the 
natural exposition of those bright and deep impressions made 
by the subject upon the speaker's mind ; for here the end is 
not pleasure, but emotion. Would we not only touch the 
heart, but win it entirely to co-operate with our views, those 
affecting lineaments must be so interwoven with our argu- 
ment, as that, from the passion excited, our reasoning may 
derive importance, and so be fitted for commanding atten- 
tion ; and by the justness of the reasoning, the passion may 
be more deeply rooted .'nd enforced ; and that thus both 
in iy be made to conspire in efl'ectuating that persuasion which 
is the end proposed. For here, if 1 may adopt the school- 
men's language, we do not argue to gain barely the assent of 
the understanding, but, which is infinitely more important, 
the consent of the will.* 

To prevent mistakes, it will not be beside my purpose far- 
ther to remark, that several of the terms above explained are 
sometimes used by rhetoricians and critics in a mucii larger 
and more vague signification than has been given them here. 
Sublimity and vehemence, in particular, are often confounded, 
the hitler being considered a species of the former. In this 
manner has thiS subject been treated by that great master, 
Longinus, whose acceptation of the term sublime is extremely 
indefinite, importing an eminent degree of almost any excel- 
lence of speech, of whatever kind. Doubtless, if things them- 
selves be understood, it does not seem material what names 
are assigned them. Yet it is both more accurate, and proves 
no inconsiderable aid to the right understanding of things, to 
discriminate by diflerent signs such as are truly different. 
And that the two qualities above mentioned are of this num- 
ber is undeniable, since we can produce passages full of ve- 
hemence, wherein no image is presented which, with any 
propriety, can be termed great or subUmcf In matters ot 

* This subordination is lieautifiilly and concisely expressed by Hersan 
m Rollin. " Je concius que la veritable eloquence est celle qui persuade ; 
ju'eile ne persuade ordinairement qu'en touchant ; qu'elle ne touche que 
par des choses et par des idees paipables." 

t For an instance of this, let that of Cicero against Antony suffice. " Tu 
islis fancibus, istis lateribus, ista gladiatoria totius corporis firinilale, tar.tum 
vini in llippiae nuptiis e.xhauseras, ul libi necesse esset in po[)uli Romani 
•ons[ioclu vomere postridie. O rem non mode visu foedam, sed etiarn au- 
ditu ! Si hoc tibi inter cosnam, in tuis iminanibus iliis poculis accidisset, 
quis non turpe duceret ? In esptu vero populi Romani, negotium publicum 
gercns, magister equitum, cui ructare turpe esset, is vomens, frustis esc.j- 
lenfis vinum redolentibus, gremiuin suum et totum tribunal implevit.' 
Htre the vivacity of the address, in turning from the audience to the person 
declaimed against, the energy of the expressions, the repetition, exclama 
tion, interrogation, and climax of aggravating circumstances, accumulated 
with rapidity upon one arothor, display in the strongest light the turpitude 
of the action, and thus . I once convince the judgment and fire the indig 
nation, it is, 'heref<!rp. isily styled vehement. But what is the image it 


criticism, us in the abstract sciences, it is of the utmost con- 
sequence to ascertain, with precision, the meanings of words, 
and, as nearly as the genius of the language in which one 
writes will permit, to make them correspond to the bound- 
aries assigned by Nature to the things signified. That the 
lofty and the vehement, though still distinguishable, are some- 
times combined, and act with united force, is not to be denied 
It is then only that the orator can be said to fight with weap 
ons which are at once sharp, massive, and refulgent, which, 
like Heaven's artillery, dazzle while they strike, which over- 
power the sight and the heart in, the same instant. How 
admirably do the two forenamed qualities, when happily 
blended, correspond in the rational to the thunder and light- 
ning in the natural world, which are not more awfully ma- 
jestical in sound and aspect than irresistible in power !* 

presents ? The reverse in every respect of the sublime ; wliat, instead ot 
gazing on with admiration, we should avert our eyes from with abhorrence. 
For, however it might pass in a Roman Senate, I question whether Cice- 
ronian eloquence itself could excuse the uttering of such things in any 
modern assembly, not to say a polite one. With vernacular expressions 
answeri.ig to tiiese, " vomere, ructare, frustis esculentis vinum redolenti- 
bus." our more delicate ears would be immoderately shocked. In a case of 
this kind, llie more lively the picture is, so much the more abominable it is. 
* A noted passage in Cicero's oration for Cornelius Bulbus will serve as 
an example of the union of sublimity with vehemence. Speaking of 
Pompey, who had rewarded the valour and public services of our orator's 
client by making him a Roman citizen, he says, " Utrum enim, inscientem 
vullis contra fadera fecisse, an scientem ( Si scientem, O nomen nostr. 
imperii. O populi Romani excellens dignitas, O Cneii Pompeii sic late lon- 
geque diffusa laiis, lit ejus glori® dumicilium communis imperii linibus ter- 
minetur: O naliones, urbes, populi, reges, tetrarchae, tyranni testes, Cneii 
Pompeii non solum virlulis in bello, sed etiam religionis in pace : vos deni 
que niutac regiones imploro, et sola terrarum ultimarum vos maria, portus, 
insula}, liltoraque, quK est enim ora, quae sedes, qui locus, in quo non ex- 
tent hujus ci'iin forlitudinis, turn vero humanitatis, tum animi, turn consilii, 
impressa vestigia? Hunc quisquam incredibili quadam atque inaudita 
gravitate, virtute, constantia praetiitum, foedera scientem neglexisse, volasse, 
rupisse, dicere audebit." Here everything conspires to aggrandize the 
hero, and exalt him to something more than mortal in the minds of the 
auditory ; at the same tune, everything inspires the most perfect veneratiiin 
for his character, and the most entire confidence in his integrity and judg- 
ment. The whole worhl is exhibited as no more than a sutlicient theatre 
for such a superior genius to act upon. How noble is the idea! All the 
nations ami potentates of the earth are, in a manner, produced as witnesses 
of his valour and his truth. Thus the orator at once (ills the imagination 
vfriih the immensity of the object, kindles in the breast an ardour of affec- 
tion and gratitude, and by so many accumulated evidences, convinces the 
understanding, and silences every doubt. Accordingly, the effect which the 
words above quoted, and some other things advanced in relation to the same 
personage, had upon the audience, as we learn from Quintiiian. was quite 
extraordinary. 'I'hey extorted from them such demonstrations of their ap- 
plause and admiration as he acknowledges to have been but ill-suited tc 
the place and the occasion. He excuses it, however, because he considers 
it, not as a voluntary, but as a necessary consequence of the impression 
made upon the minds of the people. His words a e remarkable : " Atque 



Thus much shall suffice for explaining the spirit, the intent, 
and the distinguishing qualities of each of the forementioned 
«orts of address ; all which agree in this, an accommodation 
\o affairs of a serious and important nature. 



This article, concerning eloquence in its largest accepta 
tion, I cannot properly dismiss without making some obser 
vations on another genus of oratory, in many things similar 
to the former, but which is naturally suited to light and trivial 

This, also, may be branched into three sorts, corresponding 
to those already discussed, directed to the fancy, the passions, 
and the will ; for that which illuminates the understanding 
serves as a common foundation to both, and has here nothing 
peculiar. This may be styled the eloquence of conversation, 
as the other is more strictly the eloquence of declamation.* 
Not, indeed, but that wit, humour, ridicule, which are the es- 
sentials of the former, may often be successfully admitted 
into public harangues. And, on the other hand, sublimity, 
pathos, vehemence, may sometimes enter the precincts of 
familiar converse. To justify the use of such distinctive 
appellations, it is enough that they refer to those particulars 
which are predominant in each, though not peculiar to either 


To consider the matter more nearly, it is the design of wit 
to excite in the mind an agreeable surprise, and that arising, 
not from anything marvellous in the subject, but solely from 
the imagery she employs, or the strange assemblage of re- 
lated ideas presented to the mind. This end is effected ir. 
one or other of these three ways ; first, in debasing things 
pompous or seemingly grave ; I say seemingly grave, because 

ego illos credo qui aderant, nee sensissequid sponte judicioqiie 
pTausisse; sed veliit inonte captrs, et quo essent in loco ignaros, erupisse 
in hiinc voluntatis allectum," 111), viii., cap. 3. Without doubt a consider- 
able share of thf effect ought to he ascribed to the immense advantage which 
the action and pronunciation of the orator would give to his expression. 

* In the latter of these the ancients e.xcel ; in the former, the moderns. 
Demosthenes and Cicero, not to say Homer and Virgil, to this day remain 
unrivalled, and in all antiquity, Lucian himself not excepted, we cinnol 
find a match for Swift ind Cervantes 


lo vilify what is ti-vly grave, has something shocking in it, 
wljich rarely fails to counteract the end : secondly, in ag- 
grandizing things little and frivolous : thirdly, in setting ordi 
nary objects, by means not only remote, but apparently con 
trary, in a particular and uncommon point of view.* This 
will be better understood from the following observations and 

The materials employed by wit in the grotesque pieces 
she exhibits are partly derived from those common fountains 
of whatever is directed to the imaginative powers, the orna- 
ments of elocution, and the oratorical figures, simile, apos- 
trophe, antithesis, metaphor; partly from those she, in a 
mimner, appropriates to herself, irony, hyperbole, allusion, 
parody, and (if the reader will pardon my descending so low) 
paroiiomasia.f and pun. The limning of wit differs from the 
hetorical painting above described in two respects. One is, 
(hat in the latter there is not only a resemblance requisite 
111 that particular on which the comparison is founded, but 
there must also be a general similitude in the nature and 
quality of that which is the basis of the imagery, to that 
which is the theme of discourse. In respect of dignity, or 
the impression they make upon the mind, they must be things 
liomogeneous. What has magnificence must invariably be 
portrayed by what is magnificent ; objects of importance, by 
objects important ; such as have grace, by things graceful ; 
whereas the witty, though requiring an exact likeness in the 
first particular, demands, in the second, a contrariety rather, 

* 1 know no language which affords a name for this species of imagery 
Imt tlie English. The French esprit, orbel esprit, though on some occasions 
rightly translated wit, hath commonly a signification more extensive and 
generical. It must be owned, indeed, that in conformity to the style of 
French critics, the term wit, in English writings, hath been sometimes used 
With equal latitude. Hut this is certainly a perversion of the word from its 
ordinary sense, through an excessive deference to the manner and idiom of 
our ingenious neighbours. Indeed, when an author varies llie meaning in 
the same work, he not only occasions perplexity to his reader, but falls him- 
self into an apparent inconsistency. An error of this kind in Mr. Pope has 
been lately pomted out by a very ingenious and judicious critic. " In the 
essay on criticism it is said, 

' True wit is nature to advantage dress'd.' 
Rut immediately after this the poet adds, 

' For works may have more wit than does 'em good.' 

" Now let us substitute the definition in place of the thing, and it will stand 
thus : A work may have more of nature dress'd to advantage than will do i, 
^ood. This is impossible ; and it is evident that the confusion arises from 
the poefs having anne.ted two ditTerent ideas to the same word." —Webb's 
Aeniarks on the BfaiUies of Poetry. Dialogue ii. 

t Paronomasia is properly that fi[;ure which the French call jeu de mots. 
Such as " Inceptio est ainentinm, haud amantium.'" — Ter. Andr. "Which 
templed our attempt." — Milt., b. i. "To begird the Almighty's throne, bo 
Kceching or besieging." — B. v. 


or remoteness. This enchantress exults in reconciling coii 
tradictions, and in hitting on that special liglit and attitude, 
wherein you can discover an unexpected similarity in objects 
which, at first sight, appear the most dissimilar and hetero- 
geneous. Thus high and low are coupled, humble and su- 
perb, momentous and trivial, common and extraordinary. 
Addison, indeed, observes,* that wit is often produced, not by 
lh3 resemblance, but by the opposition of ideas. But this, 
of which, however, he hath not given us an instance, doth 
r.ot constitute a different species, as the repugnance in that 
case will always be found between objects in other respects 
resembling ; for it is to the contrast of dissimilitude and like- 
ness, remoteness and relation in the same objects, that its 
peculiar effect is imputable. Hence we hear of the flashes 
and the sallies of wit, phrases which imply suddenness, sur- 
prise, and contrariety. These are illustrated, in the first, by 
a term which implies an instantaneous emergence of ligh» 
in darkness ; in the second, by a word which denotes an ab- 
rupt transition to things distant ; for we may remark, in 
passing, that, though language be older than criticism, those 
expressions adopted by the former to elucidate matters of 
taste, will be found to have a pretty close canformity to the 
purest discoveries of the latter. 

Nay, of so much consequence here are surprise and novel, 
ty, that nothing is more tasteless, and sometimes disgusting, 
than a joke that has become stale by frequent repetition. 
For the same reason, even a pun or happy allusion will ap- 
pear excellent when thrown out extempore in conversation, 
which would be deemed execrable in print. In like manner, 
a witty repartee is infinitely more pleasing than a witty at- 
tack ; for, though in both cases the thing may be equally 
new to the reader or hearer, the effect on him is greatly in 
jured when there is ground to suppose that it may be the slow 
production of study and premeditation. This, however, holds 
most with regard to the inferior tribes of witticisms, of which 
their readiness is the best recommendation. 

The other respect in which wit differs from the illustra- 
tions of the graver orator is the way wherein it affects the 
hearer. Sublimity elevates, beauty charms, wit diverts. 
The first, as has been already observed, enraptures, and, as 
it were, dilates the soul; the second diffuseth over it a serene 
delight ; the third tickles the fancy, and throws the spirits 
into an agreeable vibration. 

To these reflections 1 shall subjoin examples in each of the 
three sorts of wit above explained. 

It will, however, be proper to premise that, if the reader 
shoi id not at first be sensible of the justness of the solutions 
v.v,d explications to be given, he ought not hastily to form aN 
» Scectator 


unlavourable conclusion. Wherever there is taste, the wittj 
and the humorous make themselves perceived, and produce 
their effect instantaneously ; but they are of so subtle a nature 
that they will hardly endure to be touched, much less to un 
dergo a strict analysis and scrutiny. They are like those 
volatile essences which, being too delicate .o bear the open 
air, evaporate almost as soon as they are exposed to it. Ac- 
cordingly, the wittiest things will sometimes be made to ap- 
pear iusipid, and the most ingenious frigid, by scrutinizing 
them too narrowlj'. Besides, the very frame of spirit proper 
for being diverted with the laughable in objects is so different 
from that which is necessary for philosophizing on them, that 
there is a risk that, when we are most disposed to inquire 
into the cause, we are least capable of feeling the effect ; as 
it is certain that, when the effect hath its full influence on us, 
we have little inclination for investigating the cause. For 
these reasons I have resolved to be brief in my illustrations, 
having ofien observed that, in such nice and abstract in- 
quiries, if a proper hmt do not suggest the matter to the 
reader, he will be but more perplexed by long and elaborate 

Of the first sort, which consists in the debasement of things 
great and eminent, Butler, among a thousand other instances, 
hath given us those which follow : 

" And now had PhcEbus, in the lap 

Of Thetis, taken out his nap : 

And, hke a lobster boil'd, the morn 

Fro:n black to red began to turn."* 

Here the low allegorical style of the first couplet, and the 
simile used in the second, afford us a just notion of this low- 
est species, which is distinguished by the name of the ludi- 
crous. Another specimen from the same author you have in 
these lines : 

"Great on the bench, great in the saddle, 

That could as well bind o'er as swaddle,' 

Mighty he was at both of these, 

And styled of war as well as peace: 

So some rats of amphibious nature 

Are either for the land or ttia<fr."t 

In this coarse kind of drollery those laughable translation* 
or paraphrases of heroic and other serious poems, wherein 
the authors are said to be travestied, chietly abound. 

To the same class those instances must be referred in 
which, though there is no direct comparison made, qualities 
of real dignity and importance are degraded by being coupled 
with things mean and frivolous, as in some respect standing 
i!i the same predicament. An exainple of this I shall give 
fjom the same hand. 

• Hiulihris :>art ii.. canto 2. f I>nd., part ' , canto 1 


' For when the restless Greeks sat down 
So many years before Troy town, 
And were renown'd, as Homer writes, 
For well-soal'd boots* no less than fights."t 

I shall only observe farther, that this sort, whose aim is t* 
debase, deliglits in the most homely expressions, provincial 
idioms, and cant phrases. 

The second kind, consisting in the aggrandizement of little 
things, which is by far the most splendid, and displays a soar- 
ing imagination, these lines of Pope will serve to illustrate : 
' As Berecynthia, ."hile her offspring vie 
In homage to the mother of the sky, 
Surveys around her in the bless'd abode 
A hundred sons, and every son a god : 
Not with less glory mighty Dulness crown'd, 
Shall take through Grub-street her triumphant round , 
And her Parnassus glancmg o'er at once, 
Behold a hundred sons, and each a dunce. "+ 

This whole similitude is spirited. The parent of the celes- 
tials is contrasted by the daughter of night and chaos ; heaven 
by Grub-street ; gods by dunces. Besides, tlie parody it con- 
tains on a beautiful passage in Virgil adds a particular lustre 
to it.^ This species we may term the l/irasomcal, or the mock- 
majeslic. It affects the most pompous language and sonorous 
phraseology as much as the other affects the reverse, the 
vilest and most grovelling dialect. 

I shall produce another example from the same writer 
which is, indeed, inimitably fine. It represents a lady em- 
ployed at her toilet, attended by her maid, under the allegory 
of the celebration of some solemn and religious ceremony. 
The passage is rather long for a quotation, but as the omis- 
sion of any part would be a real mutilation, I shall give it 

" And now unveil'd, the toilet stands display'd, 
Each silver vase in mystic order laid. 
First, robed in white, the nymph mtent adores, 
With head uncover'd, the cosmotic powers. 
A heavenly image in the glass appears. 
To that she bends, to that lier eyes she rears ; 
The inferior priestess at her altar's side, 
Trembling, begins the sacred rites of pride ; 
Unnumber'd treasures opes at once, and here 
The various offerings of the world appear ; 
From each she nicely culls with curious toil, 
And decks the goddess with the glittering spoil. 

* In allusion to the 'E.vKvrifidci Ayaiot, an expression which frequently 
vcurs both in the Iliad and in the Odyssey. 

+ Hudibras, part i., canto 2. J Dunciad, B. 

4 The passage is this : 

" Felix prole virum, qualis Berecynthia mater 
Invenitur curru Phrygias turrita per ubes, 
Laeta deum partu, centum complexa nepotes, 
Omnes coelicolas, ornnes snpera altalenentes.-iEn'"''- 


This casket India's glowing gems unlocks. 
And all Arabia breathes from yonder box. 
The tortoise here and elephant unite : 
Transform'd to combs, the speckled and the white 
Her tiles of pins extend their shining rows, 
Puffs, powders, patches, Bibles, billet doux. 
Now awful beauty puts on all its arms. 
The fair each moment rises in her charms, 
Repairs her smiles, awakens every grace, 
ind'calls forth all the wonders other face; 
Sees by degrees a purer blush arise. 
And keener lightnings quicken in her eyes."* 

To this v.iass also we must refer the applications or grave 
reflections to mere trifles ; for that great and serious are nat- 
urally associated by the mind, and likewise little and trifling, 
is sufllcienlly evinced by the common modes of expression 
on these subjects used in every tongue. An apposite instance 
of such an application we have from Philips : 

" My galligaskins, that have long withstood 
The winter's fury and encroaching frosts. 
By time subdued (what will not time sixbdue!). 
An horrid chasm disclose."! 

Like to this, but not equal, is that of Young : 

" One day his wife {for who can wiv^s reclaim .'), 
Levell'd her barbarous needle at his fame."} 

To both the preceding kinds the term burlesque is applied 
but especially to the first. 

Of the third species of wit, which is by far the most multi- 
farious, and whicli lesults from what 1 may call the queer- 
ness or singularity of the imagery, I shall give a few speci- 
mens that will serve to mark some of its principal varieties. 
To illustrate all wotdd be impossible. 

The first I shall exemplify is where there is an apparent 
contrariety in the thing she exhibits as connected. This kind 
of contrast we have in these lines of Garth : 

" Then Hydrops next appears among the throng ; 
Bloated and big she slowly sails along : 
But hke a miser in excess she's poor, 
And pines for thirst amid her watery store. "^ 

The wit in these lines doth not so much arise from the com- 
parison they contain of the dropsy to a miser (which falls 
under the description that immediately succeeds), as from the 
union of contraries they present to the imagination, poverty 
in the midst of opulence, and thirst in one who is already 
flrenched in water. 

A second sort is where the things compared are what with 
dialecticians should come under the denomination of dispara 
tes, being such as can be ranked under no common genua 
Of this I shall subjoin an example from Young : 

* Rape of the Lock, canto 1. t Splendid Shilling, 

t Univers/' Passion. i) Dispensary. 


" Health chiefly keeps an Alhcist in the dark ; 
A fever argues better than a Clarke ; 
Let but the logic in his pulse decay. 
Then Grecian he'll renounce, and jcam to pray."* 

Here, by implication, health is compared to a sophister, or 
datkener of the understanding, a fever to a metaphysical dis- 
putant, a regular pulse to false logic, for the word logic in the 
third line is used ironically. In other words, we have hero 
modes and substances, the affections of the body, and the ex- 
ercise of reason strangely, but not insignificantly, linked to- 
gether ; strangely, else the sentiment, however just, could 
not be denominated witty ; significantly, because an unmean- 
ing jumble of things incongruous would not be wit, but non- 

A third variety in this species springs from confounding 
artfully the proper and the metaphorical sense of an expres- 
sion. In this way, one will assign as a motive what is dis- 
covered to be perfectly absurd when but ever so little attend- 
ed to ; and yet, from the ordinary meaning of the words, hath 
a specious appearance on a single glance. Of this kind you 
have an instance in the subsequent lines: 

" Wtiile thus lliey talk'd, the knight 
Turn'd th' outside of his eyes to white, 
As men of inward light are wont 
To turn their optics in upon't."t 

For whither can they turn their eyes more properly than to 
the light ? 

A fourth variety, much resembling the former, is when the 
argument of comparison (for all argument is a kind of com- 
parison) is founded on the supposal of corporeal or persona) 
attributes in what is strictly not susceptible of them, as in this • 
" But }Iudibras gave him a twitch 

As quick as lightning in the breech. 

Just in the place where honour's lodged, 

.Vs wise philosophers have judg'd ; 

Hecause a kick in that place more 

Hurts honour than deep wounds before."} 

Js demonstration itself more satisfactory ? Can anything ue 
hurt but where it is ] However, the mention of this as the 
sage deduction of philosophers is no inconsiderable addition 
to the wit. Indeed, this particular circumstance belonj^s 

f)roperly to the first species mentioned, in which high and 
ow, great and little, are coupled. Another examp e. not , a- 
like the preceding, you have in these words : 

" What makes morality a crime 
The most notorious of the time ; 
Morality, which both the saints 
And wicked too cry out against ? 

» Universal Passion. t Hudibras, part i.i auiXo 1 

t Ibid, x>art ii., canto 3. 


'Cause grace and virtue are within 
Prohibited degrees of kin : 
And ilierefore no true saint allows 
They shall be suffer'd to espouse."* 

When the two foregoing instances are compared together 
we should say of the first, that it has more of simplicity and 
nature, and is, therefore, more pleasing; of the second, that 
it has more of ingenuity and conceit, and is, consequently, 
more surprising. 

The fifth, and only other variety 1 shall observe, is thai 
which ariseth from a relation, not in the things signified, but in 
the signs of all relations, no doubt the slightest. Identity 
here gives rise to puns and clinches. Resemblance to quib- 
bles, cranks, and rhymes : of these, I imagine, it is quite 
unnecessary to e.\hibit specimens. 'J'he wit here is so de- 
pendant on the sound, that it is commonly incapable of being 
transfused into another language, and as, among persons of 
taste and discerinnent, it is ui less request than the other 
sorts above enumerated, those who abound in this, and never 
rise to anything superior, are distinguished by the diminutive 
appellation of witlings. 

Let it be remarked in general, that from one or more of 
the three last-mentioned varieties, those plebeian tribes of 
witticism, the conundrums, the rebuses, the riddles, and some 
others, are lineally, though, perhaps, not all legitimately de- 
scended. I shall only add, that I have not produced the fore- 
named varieties as an exact enumeration of all the subdivis- 
ions of which the third species of wit is susceptible. It is 
capable, I acknowledge, of being almost infinitely diversified ; 
and it is principally to its various exhibitions that we apply 
the epithets sportive, sprightly, ingenious, according as they 
recede more or 'ess from those of the declaimer. 



* As wit is the painting, humour is the pathetic, in this infe- 
rior sphere of eloquence. The nature and efficacy of hu- 
mour may be thus unravelled. A just exhibition of any ar- 
dent or durable passion, excited by some adequate cause, in- 
stantly attacheth sympathy, the common tie of human souls, 
and thereby coinmunicates the passion to the breast of the 
hearer. But when the emotion is either not violent or not 
durable, and the motive not anything real, but imaginary, or, 
at least, quite disproportionate to the effect ; or when the pas- 
sion displays itself preposterously, so as rather to obstruct 
than to promote its aim — in these cases a natural reprcsenta 

* Hudibras, part iii., canto. 1. 


kion, instead of fellow-feeling, creates amusement, and urn- 
yersally awakens contempt. The portrait, in the former case, 
we call pathetic ; in tlie latter, humorous.* It was said that the 
emotion must be either not violent, or not durable. This 
limitation is necessary, because a passion, extreme in its de- 
gree, as well as lasting, cannot yield diversion to a well-dis- 
posed mind, but generally affects it with pity, not seldom with 
a mixture of horror and indignation. The sense of the ri- 
diculous, though invariably the same, is, in this case, totally 
surmounted by a principle of our nature much more powerful. 
The passion which humour addresseth as its objects is, aa 
hath been signified above, contempt. But it ought carefully 
lO be noted, that every address, even every pertinent address 
lO contempt, is not humorous. This passion is not less ca- 
pable of being excited by the severe and tragic than by the 
merry and comic manner. The subject of humour is always 
character, but not every ihing in character; its foibles, gener- 
ally, such as caprices, little extravagances, weak anxieties, 
jealousies, childish fondness, pertness, vanity, and self-con- 
ceit. One finds tlie greatest scope for exercising this talent 
in telling familiarstories, or in acting any whimsical part in an 
assumed character. Such a one, we say, has the talent of 
humouring a tale, or any queer manner which he chooseth to 
exhibit. Thus, we speak of tlie passions in tragedy, but of 
the humours in comedy ; and even to express passion as ap- 
pearing in the more trivial occurrences of life, we commonly 
use this term, as when we talk of good-humour, ill-humour, 
peevish or pleasant humour; hence it is that a capricious 
temper we call humorsome, the person possessed of it a hu- 

♦ It ought to be otiserved, that this term is also used to e.tpress any lively 
strictures of such specialities in temper and conduct as to have neither 
moment enough to mterest sympathy, nor incotigruity enough to excits 
contempt. In this case, humour not lieing adilressed to passion, but to fan 
cy, must be considered as a kind of moral painting, and diHers from wit 
only in these two things : first, in that character alone is the subject of the 
former, whereas all things whatever fail within the province of the latter; 
secondly, humour [)aiiits more simply by direct imitation, wit more variously 
by ilUi-siratioii and imagery. Of this kind of humour, merely graphical. 
.Addison hath given us numberless examples in many of the characters he 
hal^. so finely drawn, and little incidents he hath so pleasantly related in 
Lis T dttlers and S[)ectators. I might remark of the word humour, as 1 did 
of the term wit, that vve scarcely find in other languages a word exactly 
corresponding. The hatin fnceiicB seems to come the nearest. 'I'hus Cice- 
ro. " tlnic generi oraiionis nspergf ntur etiam sales, qui in dicendo mirum 
quantum valent : quorum duo genera sunt, unuin facetiarum, alterutn 
dicacitalis ; iiterur utroque, sed altero in narrando aiiquid vpnuste altero in 
jaciendo miitendoque ridiculo : cujus genera plura sunt." — Orator, 48. Hero 
one would think tliat the philosopher must have had in his eye the differ- 
rnl provinces of wit and liuinonr. calling the former Jicncitjs, the latter 
facHxe. It is plain, however, that both by him and other Latir. authors, 
•hese two words are often confounded. There appears, indeed, to be more 
•uiiform tv in ihe use that is made of the second term than in 'he applies 
■ton of the first. 


morist, and such facts or events as afford subject for the hu 
rnorous, we denominate comical. 

Indeed, comedy is tlie proper province of humour. Wit is 
called in solely as an auxiliary ; humour predominates. The 
comic poet bears the same analogy to the author of the mock- 
iieroic that the tragic poet bears to the author of the epic. 
The epos recites, and advancing with a step majestic and se- 
date, engageth all the nobler powers of imagination, a sense 
of grandeur, of beauty, and of order ; tragedy personates, and 
thus employing a more rapid and animated diction, seizeth 
directly upon the heart. The little epic, a narrative intended 
for amusement, and addressed to all the lighter powers of 
fancy, delights in the excursions of wit : the production of 
the comic muse, being a representation, is circumscribed b}' 
narrower bounds, and is all life and activity throughout. 
Thus Buckingham says, with the greatest justness, of comedy, 

" Jhimour is all. Wil should be only brought 
To turn agreeably some proper thought.'' >■ 

The pathetic and the facetious differ not only in subject 
and effect, as will appear upon the most superficial review of 
what hath been said, but also in tlie manner of imitation. In 
this the man of humour descends to a minuteness which the 
orator disdains. The former will often successfully run into 
downright mimicry, and exhibit peculiarities in voice, ges- 
ture, and pronunciation, wliich in the other would be intoler- 
able. The reason of the difference is this : That we may di- 
vert, by exciting scorn and coiUempt, the individual must be 
exposed; that we may move, by interesting the more gener- 
ous principles of humanity, the language and sentiments, not 
so much of the individual as of human nature, must be dis- 
played. So very different, or, rather, opposite, are these two 
in this respect, that there could not be a more effectual expe- 
dient for undoing the charm of the most affecting representa- 
i.;on, than an attempt in the speaker to mimic the personal 
singularities of the man for whom he desires to interest us. 
On the other hand, in the humorous, where the end is diver- 
s.on, even over-acting, if moderate, is not improper. 

It was observed already, that though contempt be the only 
passion addressed by humour, yet this passion may with pro- 
priety and success be assailed by the severer eloquence, 
where there is not the smallest tinctin-e of humour. This i. 
will not be beside our purpose to specify, in order the mor« 
effectually to show the difference. Lord Bolingbroke, speak- 
ing of the state of ihese kingdoms from the time of the Res- 
lor;ilion. has these words: "The two brothers, Charles and 
James, when in exile, became infected with popery to such 
dcf^roeLi as tlieir dilTerent ciiaracters admitted of. Charles 

' Kssav nil Piieirv. 


had parts, and his good uiiderstanding served as an antidote 
to repel the poison. Jainos, the simplest man of his lime, 
drank off the whole chalice. The poison met, in his compo- 
sition, with all the fear, all the credulit)% and all the ob- 
stinacy of tempcM' proper to increase its virulence, and to 
strengthen its effect. Drniik with superstitious, and even 
enthusiastic zeal, ho ran headlong into his own ruin, while he 
endeavoured to precipitate ours. His Parliament and his 
people did all they could to save themselves by winning him. 
I5nf all was vain. He had no principle on which they could 
take hold. Even his good qualities worked against them ; 
and his love of his country went halves with his bigotiy. 
How he succeeded we have heard from our fathers. The 
Revolution of one thousand si.x hundred and eighty-eight 
saved the nation and ruined the king.''* Nothing can be 
more contemptuous, and, at the same time, less derisive, than 
this representation. Wc should readily say of it that it is 
strongly animated, and liappily expressed ; but no man who 
understands English would say it is humorous. I shall add 
one example from Dr. Swift : '' I should be exceedingly sorry 
to find the Legislature make any new laws against the prac- 
tice of duelling, because the methods are easy and many foi 
a wise man to avoid a quarrel with honour, or engage in it 
with innocence. And I can discover no political evil in suf- 
fering bullies, sharpers, and rakes to rid the world of each 
other by a method of their own, where the law hath not been 
able to find an expedient. '"f 

For a specimen of the humorous, take, as a contrast to thr 
last two examples, the following delineation of a fop : 
" Sir Plume (of amber snufl'-box jnstlv vain, 

And the nice coiiiiuct of a clouded cane), 

Witli earnest eyes, and round, unthinking face, 

He first the smifTbox open'd, then the case, 

And thus broke out : ' My lord ! why, what the devil? 

Z — ds ! damn the lock ! 'fore Gad, you must be civil ! 

Plague on't ! 'tis past a jest ; nay, prithee — pox ! 

Give her the hair.' He spoke and rapped his box. 

* It grieves me much,' replied the peer again, 

' Who speaks so well should ever speak in vain 

But—' "t 
This, both in the descriptive and the dramatic part, particu 
larly in the draught it contains of the baronet's mind, aspect 
manner, and eloquence (if we except the sarcastic term 
justhj, the double sense of the word opend, and the fine irony 
couched in the reply), is purely facetious. An instance ol 
wit and humour combined, where they reciprocally set ofl 
and enliven each other, Pope hath also furnished us with in 
another part of the same exquisite performance. 

♦ A Letter to Sir William Windham. t Swift on Good M.innow 

t Rape of the Lock, canto 4. 


" Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law. 
Or some frail china jar receives a flaw ; 
Or stain her honour, or her new brocade ; 
Forget her prayers, or miss a masquerade , 
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball ; 
Or whether Heaven has doom'd that Shock must fall.''* 

This is humorous, in that it is a lively sketch of the female 
estimate of mischances, as our poet's commentator rightly 
terms it, marked out by a few striking lineaments. It is like- 
wise witty, for, not to mention the jilay on words, like thai 
remarked in the former example, a trope familiar to this au- 
llior, you have here a comparison of a woman's chastity to 
a piece of porcelain ; her honour to a gaudy robe ; her prayers 
to a fantastical disguise : her heart to a trinket ; and all these 
together to her lapdog, and that founded on one lucky cir- 
cumstance (a malicious critic would perhaps discern or ima- 
gine more), by which these things, how unlike soever in other 
respects, may be compared, the impression they make on the 
mind of a fine lady. 

Hudibras, so often above quoted, abounds in wit in almost 
£.11 its varieties, to which the author's various erudition hath 
not a little contributed. And this, it must be owned, is more 
suitable to tlie nature of his poem. At the same time it is by 
no means destitute of humour, as appears particularly in the 
different exhibitions of cliaracter given by the kniglit and his 
squire. But in no part of the story is this talent displayed 
to greater advantage than in the consultation of the lawyer.f 
to which I shall refer the reader, as the passage is too long 
for my transcribing. There is, perhaps, no book in any lan- 
guage wherein tiie humorous is carried to a higher pitch of 
perfection, than in the adventures of the celebrated knight of 
La Mancha. As to our English dramatists, who does not 
acknowledge the transcendent excellence of Shakspeare in 
this province, as well as in the pathetic ^ Of the latter comic 
writers, (^ongreve hi'S an exuberance of wit, but Farquhar 
has more humour. It may, however, with too muith rruth, 
be affirmed of English comedy in general (for there are some 
exceptions), that, to the discredit of our stage, as well as of 
the national delicacy and discernment, obscenity is made too 
often to supply the place of wit, and ribaldry the place of 

AVit and humour, as above explained, commonly concur in 
a tendency to provoke laughter, by exhibiting a curious and 
unexpected affinity ; the first, general!)' by comparison, citliei 
direct or implied ; the second, by connecting m some othei 
relation, such as causality or vicinity, objects apparently the 
most dissimilar and heterogeneous u which incongruous afliti 

♦ Rape of the Lock, canto 2. + Part iii„ canto 3. 



<ty. we may rcuidik by the way, gives the true meaning cl 
ttie word oddiiy , .md is the proper object of laughter. 

The difference between these and that grander kind of elo- 
quence treated lu the first part of this chapter, I shall, if pos- 
sible, still farth-,;<- illustrate by a few similitudes borrowed 
irom the optical science. The latter may be conceived as a 
plain mirror, which faithfully reflects the object, in colour, 
size, and posture. Wit, on tlie contrary, Proteus-like, trans- 
forms itself into a variety of shapes. It is now a convex 
speculum, which gr/es a just representation in form and 
colour, but withal reduces the greatest objects to the most 
despicable littleness ; now a concave speculum, which swells 
the smallest trifles to an enormous magnitude ; now, again, a 
speculum of a cylindrical, a conical, or an irregular make, 
which, though in colour, and even in attitude, it reflects a 
pretty strong resemblance, widely varies the proportions. 
Humour, when we consider the contrariety of its effects, 
contempt and laughter (which constitute what in one word 
is termed derision), to that sympathy and love often produced 
by the pathetic, may, in respect of these, be aptly compared to 
a concave mirror, when the ol)ject is placed beyond the focus ; 
in which case it appears, by reflection, both diminished and 
inverted, circumstances which happily adumbrate the con- 
temptible and the ridiculous. 



The intention of raising a laugh is either merely to divert 
t)y that grateful titillation which it excites, or to influence the 
opinions and purposes of the hearers. In this*, also, tlie ris- 
ible faculty, when suitably directed, hath often proved a very 
potent engine. When this is the view of the speaker, as 
there is always an air of reasoning conveyed under that spe- 
cies of imagery, narration, or description, which stimulate." 
laughter, these, thus blended, obtain the appellation of ridi- 
cule, the poignancy of which hath a similar effect, in futilt 
subjects, to that produced by what is called the vehement in 
solemn and important matters. 

Nor doth all the diflference between these lie in the dignitj 
of the subject. Ridicule is not only confined to questions ol 
<ess moment, but is fitter for refuting error than for support- 
ing truth ; for restraining from wrong conduct, than for in- 
citing to the practice of what is right. Nor are these the 
sole restrictions ; it is not properly levelled at the false, but 
at the absurd in tenets ; nor can the edge of ridicule strike 
with equal force every species of misconduct : it is not the 
criminal part which it attacks, but that which we denominate 
silly or foolish. With regard to doctrine, it is evident that 


i1 is nol falsity or mistake, but palpable error or absurdity 
(a tiling hardly confutable by mere argument), which is the 
object of contempt ; and, consequently, those dogmas are 
beyond the reach of cool reasoning which are within the 
rightful confines of ridicule. That they are generally con- 
ceived to be so, appears from the sense universally assigned 
to expressions like these, " Such a position is ridiculous. Il 
doth not deserve a serious answer." Everybody knows that 
they import more than " It is false," being, in other words, 
" This is such an extravagance as is not so much a subject of 
argument as of laughter." And that we may discover what 
it is, with regard to conduct, to which ridicule is applicable, 
we need only consider the different departments of tragedy 
and of comedy. In the last it is of mighty influence ; into 
the first it never legally obtains admittance. Those things 
which principally come under its lash are awkwardness, rus- 
ticity, ignorance, cowardice, levity, foppery, pedantry, and 
affectation of every kind. But against murder, cruelty, par- 
ricide, ingratitude, perfidy,* to attempt to raise a laugh, would 
show such an unnatural insensibility in the speaker, as would 
be excessively disgustful to any audience. To punish such 
enormities, the tragic poet must take a very different route. 
Now from this distinction of vices or faults into two classes, 
there hath sprung a parallel division in all the kinds of poesy 
which relate to manners. The epopee, a picturesque or 
graphical poem, is either heroic, or what is called mock-he- 
roic, and by Aristotle iambict from the measure in which 
poems of this kind were at first composed. The drama, an 
animated poem, is either in the buskin or in the sock ; for 
farce deserves not a place in the subdivision, being at most 
but a kind of dramatical apologue, whereof the characters 
are monstrous, the intrigue unnatural, the incidents often im- 
possible, and which, instead of humour, has adopted a spu- 
rious bantling, called fun. To satisfy us that satire, whose 
end is persuasion, admits also the like distribution, we need 
only recur to the different methods pursued by the two famous 
Latin satirists, Juvenal and Horace. The one declaims, the 
other derides. Accordingly, as Dryden justly observes,| vice 
is the quarry of the former, folly of the latter.^ Thus, of 

* To this black catalogue an ancient pagan of Athens or of Rome would 
have added adultery, but the modem refinements of us Christians (if with 
out profanation we can sj apply the name) absolutely forbid it, as nothing 
in our theatre is a more common subject of laughter than this. Nor is the 
laugh raised against the adulterer, else we might have some plea for oui 
morals, it none for our taste; but, to the indelible reproach of the taste, the 
sense, and the virtue of the nation, in his favour. How much degenerated 
from our worthier, though unpolished, ancestors, of whom Tacitus affirms, 
" Nemo illic vitia ridet; nee corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur." — 
De Mor. Germ., c. 19. t Poet. 4. J Origin and Progress of Satire 

6 The diffcre -ces and lelations to be found in the sevenil forms of poetr» 


the three graver forms, the aim, whether avowed or hiteiil, 
always is, or ought to be, the improvement of morals ; of the 
three lighter, the refinement of manners.* But though the 
latter have for their peculiar object manners, in the limited 
and distinctive sense of that word, they may, with propriety, 
admit many things which directly conduce to the advance- 
ment of morals, and ought never to admit anything which 
lialh a contrary tendency. Virtue is of primary importance, 
both for the happiness of individuals, and for the well-being 
of society ; an external polish is at best but a secondary ac- 
complishment, ornamental, indeed, when it adds a lustre to 
virtue, pernicious when it serves only to embellish profligacy 
and in itself comparatively of but little consequence, eithei 
to private or to public felicity. f 

mentioned, may ne more concisely marked by the following scheme, which 
brings them under the view at once : 

Serious. Facetious. 

f 1 H 1 '^ f r 

^ Fancy— Great Epic. I g"— Little Epic. I «"— ,; Insinuation. Narratoi 

1 } • I i i\ 

"o \ Passion— Tragedy. > f-— Comedy. \ g — E < Conforma- (£ i Representee 

SI M^ p o I tiou. o i 

c^ I I ° ^ -^ I •'^ 

•^ j Will— High Satire. £.— Low Satire. a—^ I Persuasion. H Reasonor 

" These observations will enable us to understand that of the poet . 
" Ridiculum acri 
F'ortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res." — Hor. 
Great and signal, it niu«t be owned, are the effects of ridicule ; but the sub 
ject must always appear to the ridiculer, and to those affected by his [>leas- 
antry, under the notion of littleness and futility, two essential requisites in 
the object of contempt and risibility. 

t Whether this attention has been always given to morals, particularly in 
comedy, must be left to the determination of those who are most conversani 
in that species of scenic representations. One may, however, venture to 
prognosticate that, if in any period it shall liecome fashionable to show no 
regard to virtue in such entertainments ; if the hero of the piece, a fine gen 
tleman, to be sure, adorned, as usual, with all the superficial and exterio: 
graces which the poet can confer, and crowned vi'ith success in the end, 
shall be an unprincipled libertine, a man of more spirit, forsooth, than to bt 
checked in his pursuits by the restraints of religion, by a regard to the com- 
mon rights of mankind, or by the laws of hospitality and private friendship, 
which were accounted sacred among pagans and those wnom we denonu 
nate barbarians; then, indeed, the stage will become merely the school o( 
gallantry and intrigue; thither the youth of both sexes will resort, and will resort in vain, in order to get rid of that troublesome companion, mod- 
esty, intended by Providence as a guard to virtue, and a check against li- 
centiousness ; there vice will soon learn to provide herself in a proper flock 
of effrontery, and a suitable address for effecting her designs, and triumph 
ing over innocence ; then, in fine, if religion, virtue, principle, equity, grati- 
tude, anil good faith, are not empty sounds, the stage will prove the great- 
est of nuisances, and deserve to be styled the principal corrupter of the age. 
Whether such an era hath ever happened in the history of the theatre, in 
this or any other country, or is likely to happen, I do not take upon mo t» 


Another remarkable difference, the only one which re- 
mains to be observed, between the vehement or contentious 
and the derisive, consists in the manner of conducting them. 
As in each there is a mixture of argument, this in the former 
ought, in appearance at least, to have the ascendant, but not 
in the latter. The attack of the declaimer is direct and open ; 
Hrgument, therefore, is his avowed aim. On the contrary, the 
passions which he excites ought never to appear to the audi- 
tors as the effects of his intention and address, but both in 
him and them, as the native, the unavoidable consequences 
of the subject treated, and of that conviction which his rea- 
soning produces in the understanding. Although, in fact, he 
intends to move his auditory, he only declares his purpose to 
convince them. To reverse this method, and profess an in 
lention to work upon their passions, would be, in effect, to tell 
them that he meant to impose upon their understandings, and 
to bias them by his art, and, consequentl}', would be to warn 
thom to be on their guard against him. Nothing is better 
founded than the famous aphorism of rhetoricians, that the 
perfection of art consists in concealing the art.* On the 
other hand, the assault of him who ridicules is from its very 
nature covert and oblique. What we profess to contemn, 
we scorn to confute. It is on this account that the reason- 
ing in ridicule, if at all delicate, is always conveyed under a 
species of disguise. Nay, sometimes, which is more aston- 
ishing, tlie contempt itself seems to be dissembled, and the 
railer assumes an air of arguing gravely in defence of that 
which he actually exposelh as ridiculous. Hence, undoubt- 
edly, it proceeds, that a serious manner commonly adds en- 
ergy to a joke. The fact, however, is, that in this case the 
very dissimulation is dissembled. He would not have you 
think him in earnest, though he affects the appearance of it, 
Knowing that otherwise his end would be frustrated. He 
wants that you should perceive that he is dissembling, which 
no real dissembler ever wanted. It is, indeed, this circum- 
stance alone which distinguishes an ironical expression from 
a lie. Accordingly, through the thinness of the veil employ- 
ed, he takes care that the sneer shall be discovered. You 
are quickly made to perceive his aim, by means of the 
strange arguments he produces, the absurd consequences he 
draws, the odd embarrassments which in his personated 
character he is involved in, and the still odder methods 
he takes to disentangle himself. In this manner doctrines 
and practices are treated, when exposed by a continued run 
of irony; a way of refutation which bears a strong analogy 
to that species of demonstration termed by mathematicians 
apagogical, as reducing the adversary to what is contradic 

* Artis est celare 'irtem 


tory or impracticable. This method seems to have been 
first introduced into moral subjects, and employed with suc- 
cess, by the father of ancient wisdom, Socrates. As the at- 
tack of ridicule, whatever form it adopts, is always indirect, 
that of irony may be said to be reverted. It resembles the 
manner of fighting ascribed to the ancient Parthians, who 
were ever more formidable in flight than in onset; who 
looked towards one quarter, and fought towards the opposite ; 
whose bodies moved in one direction, and their arrows in the 

It remains now to coiifirm and illustrate this branch of the 
theory by suitable examples. And, not to encumber the 
reader with a needless multiplicity of excerptions, I shall 
first recur to those already produced. The first, second, and 
fifth passages from Hutler, the first from Pope, the first from 
Young, and the quotation from the Dispensary, though witty, 
have no ridicule in them. Their whole aim is to divert by 
the oddness of the imagery. This merits a careful and par- 
ticular attention, as on the accuracy of our conceptions here, 
depends, in a great measure, our forming a just notion <»f the 
relation which ridicule bears to wit, and of the distinction thai 
subsists between them. Let this, therefore, be carefully re- 
membered, that where nothing reprehensible, or supposed to 
be reprehensible, either in conduct or in sentiment, is struck 
at, there is properly no satire (or, as it is sometimes termed 
emphatically enough, pointed wit), and, consequently, no ridi- 

The example that first claims a particular notice here is 
one from Young's Satires: 

" Health chiefly keeps an Atheist in the dark," &;c. 
The witnesses of this passage was already illustrated ; I shall 
now endeavour to show the argutnent couched under it, both 
which together constitute the ridicule. " Atheism is unrea- 
sonable." Why ] " The Atheist neither founds his unbeliel 
on reason, nor will attend to it. Was ever an infidel in health 
convinced by reasoning! or did he ever in sickness need to 
be reasoned with on this subject] The truth, then, is, that 
the daring principles of the libertine are solely supported by 
the vigour and healthiness of his constitution, which incline 
him to pleasure, thoughtlessness, and presumption ; accord- 
ingly, you find, that when this foundation is subverted, the 
whole fabric of infidelity falls to pieces." There is rarely, 
however, so much of argument in ridicule as may be discov- 
ered in this passage. Generally, as was observed already, 
it is but hinted in a single word or phrase, or appears to b« 

•■ Miles sagittas et celerem fugam 

1 'arlhi perhorrescit. — Hok. 

rjiicnle.niqtie fcga Parthum versisqiie sagittis.— -Vims 


glanced at occasionally, without any direct intention. Thus, 
m the third quotation from Butler, there is an oblique thrust 
at Homer for his manner of recurring so often, in poems oi 
so great dignity, to such siean and trifling epithets. The 
fourth and the sixth satirize the particular fanatical practice, 
and fanatical opinion, to which they refer. To assign a pre- 
posterous motive to an action, or to produce an absurd argu 
ment for an opinion, is an innuendo that no good motive oi 
argument can be given.* The citations from the Rape of the 
Lock are no otherwise to be considered as ridicule, than as 
a lively exhibition of some follies, either in disposition or in 
behaviour, is the strongest dissuasive from imitating them. 
In this way humour rarely fails to have some raillery in it, 
in like manner as the pathetic often persuades without argu 
ment, which, when obvious, is supplied by the judgment oi 
the hearer.f The second example seems intended to dis- 
grace the petty quaintness of a fop's manner, and the empti- 
ness of his conversation, as being a huddle of oaths and non- 
sense. The third finely satirizes the value which the ladies 
loo often put upon the merest trifles. To these I shall add 
one instance more from Hudibras, where it is said of priests 
and exorcists, 

" Supplied Willi spiritual provision, 

And magazines of ainniuniiion. 

With crosses, relics, crucifixes, 

Beads, pictures, rosaries, and pixes, 

Ttie tools of working out salvation, 

By mere mechanic operation. "J 

The reasoning here is sufficiently insinuated by the happ) 
application of a few words, such as mechanic tools to thf. 
work of salvation; crosses, relics, beads, pictures, and other 
such trumpery, to spiritual provision. The justness of the 
representation of their practice, together with the manifest 
incongruity of the things, supply us at once with the wit and 
the argument. There is in this poem a great deal of ridicule ; 
but the author's quarry is the frantic excesses of enthusiasm 
and the base artifices of hypocrisy ; he very rarely, as in the 
above passage, points to the idiot gewgaws of superstition. 
I shall only add one instance from Pope, which has some- 
thing peculiar in it : 

"Then sighing thus, 'And am now threescore ? 
Ah! why, ye gods! should two and two make four?' "^ 

♦ We have an excellent specimen of this sort of ridicule in Montesquieu'i 
Spirit of Laws, t xv., c. v., where the practice of Europeans in enslaving 
the r.egroes is ironically justified, in a manner which does honour to the 
author's humanity and love of justice, at the same time that it displays a 
hapj.y talent in ridicule. 

f- Ridicule, resulting from a simple but humorous narration, is finely iliiis 
trated in the first ten or twelve Provincial Letters. 

t Psrt iij. ciui'.o 1. () Dunciad. 


This, though not in the narrative, but in the dramatic style, 
is more witty tlian humorous. The absurdity of the excla- 
mation in the second hue is too gross to be natural to ar:y but 
a madman, and, therefore, hath not humour. Nevertheless, 
its resemblance to the common complaint of old age, con 
tained in the first, of which it may be called the analysis, ran- 
ders it at once both an ingenious exhibition of such complaint 
in its real import, and an argument of its folly. But, notwith- 
standing this example, it holds in general, that wlien any- 
thing nonsensical in principle is to be assailed by ridicule, the 
natural ally of reason is wit; when any extravagance or im- 
propriety in conduct, humour seldom fails to be of the con- 
federacy. It may be farther observed, that the words banter 
and raiUcrij are also used to signify ridicule of a certain form, 
applied, indeed, more commonly to practices than to opinions, 
and oftcner to the little peculiarities of individuals than to the 
disiinguisliing customs or usages of sects and parties. The 
only diHerence in meaning, as far as I have remarked, be- 
tween the two terms, is, that the first generally denotes a 
coarser, the second a finer sort of ridicule ; the former pre- 
vails most among the lower classes of the people, the latter 
only among persons of breeding. 

1 sliall conclude this chapter with observing, that though 
the gayer and more familiar eloquence, now explained, may 
often properly, as was remarked before, be admitted into 
public orations on subjects of consequence, such, for instance 
as are delivered in the senate or at the bar, and even some- 
limes, though more sparingly, on the bench, it is seldom or 
never of service in those which come from the pulpit. It is 
true that an air of ridicule in disproving or dissuading, by ren 
dering opinions or practices contemptible, hath occasionally 
been attempted, with approbation, by preachersof great name. 
I can only say, that when this airy manner is employed, it re- 
quires to be managed witii the greatest care and delicacy, 
that it may not degenerate into a strain but ill adapted to so 
seriou : an occupation: for the reverence of the place, the 
gravity of the function, the solemnity of worship, the severi- 
ty of the precepts, and the importance of the motives of re- 
ligion ; above all, the awful presence of God, with a sense of 
which the mind, when occupied in religious exercises, ought 
eminently to be impressed — all these seem utterly incompati- 
ble with the levity of ridicule. They render jesting Imperti- 
nence, and laughter madness. Therefore, anything in preach- 
ing which might provoke this emotion, would justly be deem- 
ed an unpardonable olTencc against both piety and decorum. 

In the two preceding chapters I have considered the nature 
of oratory in general, its various forms, whether arising from 
difference in tlie object, understanding, imagination, passion, 
will ; or 'm the subject, eminent and severe, light and frivo- 


fous, with their respective ends and characters. Under these 
are included nil the primary and characterislical qualities of 
v/hatever can pertinentlj find a place either in writing or in 
discourse, or can truly be termed fine in the one, or eloquent 
in the other. 



Before I proceed to another topic, it will perhaps be thought 
proper to inquire how far the theory now laid down and ex- 
plained coincides with the doctrines on this article to be found 
In the writings of philosophers and critics. Not that I think 
Buch inquiries and discussions always necessary ; on the con- 
trary, I imagine they often tend but to embarrass the reader, 
by distracting his attention to a multiplicity of objects, and 
so to darken and perplex a plain question. This is particu- 
larly the case on those points on which there hath been a va- 
riety of jarring sentiments. The simplest way and the most 
perspicuous, and generally that which best promotes the dis- 
covery of truth, is to give as distinct and methodical a de- 
lineation as possible of one's own ideas, together with the 
grounds on which they are founded, and to leave it to the 
doubtful reader (who thinks it worth the trouble) to compare 
the theory with tlie systems of other writers, end then to judge 
for himself. 1 am not, however, so tenacious of this method 
as not to allow that it may sometimes, with advantage, be de- 
parted from. This holds especially when the sentiments of 
an author are opposed by inveterate prejudices in the reader, 
arising from contrary opinions early imbibed, or from an ex- 
cessive deference to venerable names and ancient authorities 


Aristotle's account of The Ridiculous explai.ned, on a superficial view, may imagine that the doctrine 
above expounded is opposed by no less authority than that ol 
Aristotle. If it were, I should not think that equivalent to a 
demonstration of its falsity. But let us hear: Aristotle hath 
observed, that " the ridiculous implies something deformed, 
and consists in those smaller faults which are neither painful 
nor pernicious, but unbeseeming : thus, a face excites laugh- 
ter wherein there is deformity and distortion without pain." 
For my part, nothing can appear more coincident than this, 
Hs far as it goes, with the j>rinciples which I have endeavour 


ed to establish. The Stagyrile here speaks of ridicule, no" 
of laughter in general ; and not of every sort of ridicule, but 
solely of the ridiculous in manners, of which he hath in few 
words given a very apposite description. To take notice ol 
any other laughable object would have been foreign to his 
purpose. Laughter is not his theme, but comedy, and lauf^h- 
ter only so far as comedy is concerned with it. Now the 
concern of comedy reaches no farther than that kind of ridi- 
cule which, as I said, relates to manners. The very words 
with which the above quotation is introduced evince the truth 
of this : " Comedy," says he, '* is, as we remarked, an imita- 
tion of things that are amiss ; yet it does not level at every 
vice."* He had remarked in the preceding chapter, that its 
means of correction are '" not reproach, but ridicule. "f Nor 
does the clause in the end of the sentence, concerning a coun- 
lenance which raises laughter, in the least invalidate what I 
have now affirmed ; for it is plain that this is suggested in a 
way of similitude, to illustrate what he had advanced, and 
not as a particular instance of the position he had laid down. 
For we can never suppose that he would have called distort- 
ed features " a certain fault or slip,"J and still less that he 
would have specified this, as what might be corrected by the 
art of the comedian. As an instance, therefore, it would 
have confuted his definition, and shown that his account of 
the object of laughter must be erroneous, since this emotion 
may be excited, as appears from the example produced by 
himself, where there is nothing faulty or vicious in any kind 
or degree. As an illustration it was extremely pertinent. It 
showed that the ridiculous in manners (which was all that his 
definition regarded) was, as far as the different nature of the 
things would permit, analogous to the laughable in other sub- 
jects, and that it supposed an incongruous combination, w here 
there is nothing either calamitous or destructive. But that 
in other objects unconnected with either charact'er or con- 
duct, with either the body or the soul, there might not be 
images or exhibitions presented to the mind which would 
naturally provoke laughter, the philosopher hath nowhere, as 
far as I know, so much as insinuated. 


HOBBEs's ACCOUNT OF Laughter examined. 

Fro.m the founder of the peripatetic school, let us descend 
to the philosopher of Malmesbury, who hath defined laugh 

* The whole passage runs thus: 'H ^t (tu/ii.i^ia eartv, woirtp tiiro/icr, /<i 
ftJiaiS <piiv\oTC(nov imi; ov fitvroi Kara vaaav xaKtav aX\a tov atavfov ten to yt)'Oioi 
yopioV TO yiif) ■yt\otov tariv ujxapTrifia Ti «.mi ai<x^Oi aMiiivvov vol ov (pQupTtKOi 
hinv fnOu? TO yiXotov Trpoaunrov ntn-^^ov ti koi iitaTpanjitvvv avcv hixnrrn — Foet 5 

*■ Or ^^oyov aXXa to vtAo-or /5,?auaro iroiijirnf X 'Afi'irrrum -• 


ler " a sudden glory, arising from a sudden concei'tion of 
some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirm- 
ity of others, or with our own formerly."* This account is, 
I acknowledge, incompatible with that given in the prece- 
ding pages, and, in my jmlgment, results entirely from a view 
of the subject which is in some respect partial, and in some 
respect false. It is in some respect ])artial. When laughter 
is produced by ridicule, it is, doubtless, accompanied with 
some degree of contempt. Ridicule as hath been observed 
already, has a double oprration : fir on the fancy, by pre- 
senting lo it such a grouj' as constil, r-s a laughable object ; 
secondly, on the passion mentioned, by exhibiting absurdity 
in human character, in j riiiciples, or in conduct: and con- 
tempt alway implies a sense of superiority. No wonder, 
then, that one likes not to be ridiculed or laughed at. Now 
it is this union which is the great source of this author's er 
ror, and of his attributing to one of the associated principles, 
from an imperfect view of the subject, what is purely the ef- 
fect of the other. 

For, that the emotion ( ailed laugh' er doth not result from 
the contempt, but solely from the perception of oddity with 
which the passion is occiisionally, not necessarily, combined, 
is manifest from the following cons-iderations. P^irst, con- 
tempt may be raised in a very high degree, both suddenly and 
unexpectedly, withoiit pr.iducing the least tendency to laugh. 
Of this instances have been given already from Bolingbroke 
and Swift, and innumerable others will occur to those who 
are conversant in the waitings of those authors. Secondly, 
laughter may be, and is daily produced by the perception of 
incongruous association, when then^ is no contempt. And 
this shows that Hobbes's view of the matter is fabe as well 
as partial. " Men," says he, "laugh at jests, the \ where- 
of always consisteth in the elegant discovering ana convey- 
ing to our minds some absurdity of another."! I maintain 
that men also laugh at jests, the wit whereof doth not consist 
in discovering any absurdity of another; for all jests do not 
come within his descripiion. On a careful perusal of the 
foregoing sheets, the reader will find that there have been 
several instances of this kind produced already, in which it 
hath been observed that there is wit, but no ridicule. I shall 
bring but one other instance. Many have laughed at the 
queerness of the comparison in these lines, 
" For rhyme the i udder is of verses, 
With which, like ships, they steer their course? ,"t 

who never dreamed that there was any person or party, prac- 
tice or opinion, derided in them. But as people are ofteu 

• Human Nature, chap, ix,, ^ 13. f Ihid 

1" Hi dibras. part i., canto 1. 


very ingenious in their manner of defending a favourite hy 
pothesis, if any admirer of the Hobbesian philosophy should 
pietend to discover some class of men whom the poet here 
meant to ridicule, he ought to consider, that if any one hath 
been tickled with the passage to whom the same thoug^'t 
never occurred, that single instance would be sufficient lo 
fiubvert the doctrine, as it would show that there may be 
J-i.ughter where there is no triumph or glorying over anybody, 
and, consequently, no conceit of one's own superiority. So 
il;at there may be, and often is, both contempt without laugh- 
ter, and laughter without contempt. 

Besides, where wit is really pointed, which constitutes ridi- 
ciile, that it is not from what gives the conceit of our own 
e:ninence by comparison, but purely from the odd assemblage 
of ideas, that the laughter springs, is evident from this, that 
if you make but a trilling alteration on the expression, so as 
to destroy the wit (which often turns on a very little circum- 
stance), without altering the real import of the sentence (a 
thing not only possible, but easy), you will produce the same 
opinion and the same contempt, and, consequently, will give 
the same subject of triumph, yet without the least tendency 
til laugh; and conversely, in reading a well-written satire, a 
man may be much diverted by the wit, whose judgment is not 
convinced by the ridicule or insinuated argument, and whose 
former esteem of the object is not in the least impaired. In- 
deed, men's telling their own blunders, even blunders recent- 
ly committed, and laughing at them, a thing not uncommon 
in very risible dispositions, is utterly inexplicable on llobbcs's 
system: for, to consider the thing only with regard to the 
laugher himself, there is to him no subject of glorying that 
is not counterbalanced by an equal subject of humiliation (he 
*ieing both the person laughing, and the person laughed at) 
Tud these two subjects must destroy one another. With re- 
gard to others, he appears solely under the notion of inferi- 
urily, as the person triumphed over. Indeed, as in ridicule, 
agreeably to the doctrine here propounded, there is always 
t<ome degree, often but a very slight degree, of contempt ; it 
is not every character, I acknowledge, that is fond of present- 
ing to others such subjects of mirth. Wherever one shows a 
proncness to it, it is demonstrable that on that peison sociality 
and the love of laughter have much greater influence than 
vanity or self-conceit: since, for the sake of sharing with 
others in the joyous entertainment, he can submit to the mor- 
tifying circumstance of being the subject, 'i'his, however, is 
in effect no more than enjoying the sweet which predomi- 
nates, notwithstanding a little of the bitter with which it is 
mingled. The laugh in this case is so far from being expres- 
Bive of the passion, that it is produced in spite of the passion, 
which operates against it, and, if strong enough, would cflfectu- 
ally restrain it. 


But it is impossible that there could be any enjoyment to 
fiim, on the other hypothesis, which makes the laugliter 
merely the expression of a triumph, occasioned by the sud- 
den display of one's own comparative excellence, a triumph 
in which tlie person derided could not partake. In this cas(>, 
on the contrary, he must undoubtedly sustain the part of the 
weeper (according to the account which the same author 
liath given of that opposite passion,* as he calls it), and 
"suddenly fall out with himself, on the sudden conception oJ 
defect." To suppose that a person, in laughing, enjoys the 
contempt of himself as a matter of exultation over his own 
infirmity, is of a piece with Cowley's description of envy ex- 
aggerated to absurdity, wherein she is said 

" To envy at the praise herself had won.''t 
In the same way, a miser may be said to grudge the money 
that himself hath got, or a glutton the repasts : for the lusl 
of praise as much terminates in self as avarice or gluttony. 
It is a strange sort of theory which makes the frustration of 
a passion, and tlie gratification, the same thing. 

As to the remark that wit is not the only cause of this 
emotion, that men laugh at indecencies and mischances, no- 
thing is more certain. A well-dressed man falling into the 
kennel, will raise, in tlie spectators, a peal of laughter. But 
this confirms, instead of weakening, the doctrine here laid 
down. The genuine object is always things grouped together 
in which there is some striking unsuitableness. The effect 
is much the same, whether the things themselves are pre- 
sented to the senses by external accident, or the ideas of them 
ivre presented to tlie imagination by wit and humour ; though 
it is only with the latter that the subject of eloquence is con- 

In regard to Hobbes's system, I shall only remark farther 
that according to it, a very risible man, and a very self-con- 
ceited, supercilious man, should imply the same character, 
yet, in fact, perhaps no two characters more rarely meet in 
the same person. Pride, and contempt, its usual attendant, 
considered in themselves, are unpleasant passions, and tend 
to make men fastidious, always finding ground to be dissatis- 
fied with their situation and their company. Accordingly, 
those who are most addicted to these passions, are not, gen- 
erally, the happiest of mortals. It is only when the last ol 
these hath gotten for an alloy a considerable share of sensi- 
bility in regard to wit and humour, which serves both to mod- 
erate and to sweeten the passion, that it can be termed in 
any degree sociable or agreeable. It hath been often re- 
marked of very proud persons that they disdain to laugh as 
thinking that it derogates from their dignity, and levels theo 

♦ Hobljcs's Hum. Nat., cl . ix., ^ 14. + DaviJeis, book i. 



',00 rriich with the common herd. The merriest people, on 
the contrary, are the least suspecled of being haughty and 
contemptuous people. The company of the former is gen- 
erall) as much courted as that of the latter is shunned. To 
refer ourselves to such universal observations is to appeal to 
the common sense of mankind. Ht»\v admirably is the height 
of pride and arrogance touched in the character which Cajsai 
gives of Cassius I 

" He loves I o plays 
As thou dost, Antony ; he liea's no music. 
Seldom he smile s and smiles in such a sort, 
As if he mock'd himself, and scorn'd his spirit, 
That could be moved to smile at anything."* 

I should not have been jo particular in the refutation of the 
Eng ish philosopher's system in regard to laughter, had I not 
considered a careful discussion of this question as one of the 
best means of developing some of the radical principles o( 
thi.*! inquiry. 



In contemplating a hinnan creaiure, the most natural di- 
vision of tiie subject is the common division into soul and 
body, or into tlie living principle ol perception and of action, 
and that system of material organs by which the other re- 
ceives information from without, and is enabled to exert its 
powers, both for its own benefit and for that of the species. 
Analogous to this there are two things in every discourse 
which principally claim -)ur attention, the sense and the ex- 
pression ; or, in other wi»rds. the thought, and the symbol by 
which it is communicate I. These may l)e said to constitute 
the soul and the body of an oration, or, indeed, of whatever 
is signified to another by language. For as, in man, each of 
thi'se constituent parts ii itli its distinctive attributes, and as 
th»! perfection of tlie latter consist( th in its fitness for serving 
tht! purposes of the former, so it is j)recisely with those two 
essentia! parts of every speecli, tlic sense and the expression 
N>»w it is by the sense that rhetcric Ijolds of logic, and by 
the exprcs!:ion that she holds of grannnar. 

The sole and uhimate endof lo^ic is the eviction of truth; 
Die important end of eloquence, tiiough, as appears from the 
i^yi chapter, neither the sole, nor always the ultimate, is thw 

* Shaki-peare's Juhus Caesar 


jonviclion of the hearers. Pure logic regards only the sud- 
lect, which is examined solely for the sake of information. 
Truth, as such, is the proper aim of the examiner. Eloquence 
not only considers the subject, but also the speaker and vhe 
hearers, and both the subject and the speaker iur the sake of 
ihe hearers, or, rather, for the sake of the effect intended to 
06 produced in them. Now to convince the hearers is always 
either proposed by the orator as his end in addressing them, 
or supposed to accompany the accomplishment of his end. 
Of the five sorts of discourses above mentioned, there are 
only two wherein conviction is the avowed purpose. One is 
that addressed to the understanding, in which the speaker 
proposelh to prove some position disbelieved or doubted by 
the hearers ; the other is that which is calculated to influence 
the will, and persuade to a certain conduct ; for it is by con- 
vincing the judgment that he proposelh to interest the pas- 
sions and fix the resolution. As to the three other kinds of 
discourses enumerated, which address the understanding, the 
imagination, and the passions, conviction, though not the end, 
ought ever to accompany the accomplishment of the end. It 
IS never formally proposed as an end where there are not 
supposed to be previous doubts or errors to conquer. But 
when due attention is not paid to it by a proper management 
of the subject, doubts, disbelief, and mistake will be raised 
by the discourse itself, where there were none before, and 
these will not fail to obstruct the speaker's end, whatever it 
be. In explanatory discourses, which are of all kinds the 
simplest, there is a certain precision of manner which ought 
to pervade the whole, and which, though not in the form of 
argument, is not the less satisfactory, since it carries iniernal 
evidence along with it. In harangues pathetic or panegyrical, 
in order that the hearers may be moved or pleased, it is of 
great consequence to impress them with the belief of the 
reality of the subject. Nay, even in those performances 
where truth, in regard to the individual facts related, is nei- 
ther sought nor expected, as in some sorts of poetry and in 
romance, truth still is an object to the mind, the general 
truths regarding character, manners, and incidents. When 
Uiese are preserved, the piece may justly be denominated 
true, considered as a picture of life, though false, considered 
as a narrative of particular events. And even these untrue 
events must be counterfeits of truth, and bear its image ; for 
in cases wherein the proposed end can be rendered consistent 
with unbelief, it cannot be rendered compatible with incredi- 
bility. Thus, in order to satisfy the mind, in most cases, truth, 
and, in every case, what bears tiie semblance of truth, must 
be presented to it. This holds equally whatever be the de- 
clared aim of the speaker. I need scarcely add, that to prove 
* partif>»'ar point is o en occasionally necessary in every 


sort of discourse, as a subordinate end conducive to the ad 
vaiicement of the principal. If, then, it is the business of 
logic to evince the truth, to convince an auditory, which is 
the province of eloquence, is but a particular application of 
the logician's art. As logic, therefore, forces the arms wiiicli 
eloquence teacheth us to wield, we must first have recourse 
to the former, that, being made acquainted with the material.^ 
of which her weapons and armour are severally made, wo 
in.iy know their respective strength and temper, and when 
Hill how each is to bv, used. 

Now, if it be by the sense or soul of the discourse that 
rhetoric holds of logic, or the art of thinking and reasoning, 
it is by the expressioi or body of the dis^.ourse that she holds 
of grammar, or the ai t of conveying our 2'ioughts in the words 
of a particular language. The observation of one analogy 
naturally suggests a:iotlier. As the fovl is of heavenly ex- 
traction and the body of earthly, so th»; sj-usr of the discourse 
ought to have its source in the invari.-.tlv nature of truth and 
right; whereas the expression can derive its enf^r^^y only from 
the arbitrary conventions of men, sources as unlike, or, rather, 
as widely different, as the breath of the Almighty and the dust 
of the earth. In every region of the globe we mny soon dis- 
cover that people feel and argue in much the same mannei. 
but the speech of one nation is quite uniiitelligible tc another 
The art of the logician is, accordingly, in some sense, uni 
versal ; the art of the pirammarian is always partici'lar and 
local. The rules of aigumentation laid down by Aristotle, 
in his Analytics, are of as much use for the discovery of truth 
in Britain or in China as they were in Greece ; but Priscian's 
rules of inflection and construction can assist us in learning 
no language but Latin. In propriety, there could not "ie such 
a thing as a universal grammar, unless there were such a 
thing as a universal language. The term halh sometimes, 
indeed, been applied to a collection of observations on the 
similar analogies that have been discovered in all tongues, 
ancient and modern, known to the authors of such collec- 
tions I do not mention this liberty in the use of the term 
with a view to censure it. In the application of technical or 
learned words, an author hath greater scope than in the appli- 
cation of those wliich are in more frequent use, and is only 
ihen thought censurable, when he exposeth himself to be 
misunderstood. But it is to my purpose to observe, that as 
such collections convey the knowledge of no tongue what- 
ever, the iidme grammar, when applied to them, is used in a 
sense quite different from that which it has in the common 
acceptation ; perhaps as different, though the subject be lan- 
guage, as when it is applied to a system of geography. 

Now the grammatical art hath its complexion in syntax, 
liie oratorical, as far as the body or expression is concerned 


m style. Syntax regards only t'ne compo?ition of maay 
words into one sentence ; style, at the same time that it al 
tends to this, regards, farther, the composition of many sen 
tences into one discourse. Nor is this the only difference 
the grammarian, with respect to what the two arts have ir 
common, the structure of sentences, requires only purity ; tha 
is, that he words employed belong to the language, and tha* 
they be construed in the manner, and used in the significatior. 
which custom hath rendered necessary for conveying th< 
sense. The orator requires also beauty and strength. Th< 
highest aim of the former is the lowest aim of the latter 
where grammar ends, eloquence begins. 

Thus, the grammarian's department bears much the samo 
relation to the orator's which the art of the mason bears to 
that of the architect. There is, however, one difference, that 
well deserves our notice. As in architecture it is not neces- 
sary that he who designs should execute his own plans, he 
may be an excellent artist in this way who would handle 
very awkwardly the hammer and the trowel. But it is alike 
incumbent on the orator to design and to execute. He must, 
therefore, be master of the language he speaks or writes, and 
must be capable of adding to grammatic purity those higher 
qualities of elocution, which will render his discourse graceful 
and energetic. 

So much for the connexion that subsists between rhetoric 
and these parent arts, logic and grammar. 



Logical truth consisteth in the conformity of our concep 
tions to their archetypes in the nature of things. This con- 
formity is perceived by the mind, either immediately on a 
bare attention to the ideas under review, or mediately by a 
comparison of these with other related ideas Evidence o'' 
the former kind is called intuitive ; of the latter, deductive 



Part 1. Mathematical Axioms 

Of intuitive evidence there are different sorts. One is that 
nilich results purely from intellection* Of this kind is tha 

♦ I have here adopted the term intellection, rather tlian perception, bccausft 


evidence of these propositions: "One and four make five 
Things equal to the same thing are equal to one another 
The whole is greater than a part ;'' and, in brief, all axioms 
ill arithmetic and geometry. Tliese are, in effect, but so 
many different expositions of our own general notions, taken 
in different views. Some of them are no other than defini- 
I ions, or equivalent to drfinitions. To say "One and four 
make /^re," is precisely the same as to say, "We give the 
uamejive to one added to four." In fact, they are all, in some 
respect, reducible to this a.dom, " Whatever is, is." I do not 
say they are deduced from it, foi they have in like manner 
that original and intrinsic evidence, which makes them, as 
soon as the terms are nnd»?rstood, to be perceived intuitively. 
And if tiiey are not thus percei\ed, no deduction of reason 
will ever confer on them any adi'itional evidence. Nay, in 
point of time, the discoveiy of the less general truths has the 
priority, not from their superior evidence, but solely from 
this consideration, that the less general are sooner objects 
of perception to us, tiie natural jirogrcss of tlio mind in the 
acquisition of its ideas being from particular things to uni- 
versal notions, and not inversely. But I aHlrm that, tliough 
not deduced from that a.viom, they may be considered as 
particular exemplifications of it, and coincident with it, inas- 
much as they are all impl ed in this, that the properties of our 
clear and adequate ideas can be no other than what tlie mind 
clearly perceives them to be. 

But, in order to prevent mistakes, it will be necessary far- 
ther to illustrate this sulject. It might be thought, that if 
axioms were propositions perfectly identical, it would be im- 
possible to advance a ste|>, by their means, beyond the simple 
ideas first perceived by the mind And it must be owned, if 
the predicate of the proposition were nothing but a repetition 
of the subject, under tiie same aspect, and in the same or 
synonymous terms, no conceivalde advantage could be made 
of it for the furtherance of knowledge. Of such proposition.s 
as these, for instance, " Seven aie seven," "eight are eight," 
and " ten added to eleven are equal to ten added to eleven," 
it is manifest that we could never avail ourselves for the im- 
provement of science. N'or does the change of the name 
make any alteration in point ot utility. The propositions, 

though not so usual, it is both more apposite and less equivocal. Perception 
is employed alike to denote every iinme.iiate object of thought, or whatever 
is appreheniled by the mind, our sensations themselves, and those qualities 
in body, suggested by our sensations, the ideas of these upon reflection, 
whether remembered or imagined, togeiher with those called general no- 
tions, or abstract ideas. It is only the last of these kinds which are con- 
sidered as peculiarly the object of the understandmg, and which, thercfoie, 
require to be distinguished by a peculiai name. Obscurity arising from an 
uncoinmop word is easily .surmounted, whereas ambiguity, by misleading 
p.s. ere we are aware, co-ifounds our notion of the sub'cct nltogether. 


* Twelve are a dozen," " twenty are a score," unless i-on- 
Bidered as explications of the words dozen and score, are 
equally insignificant with the former. But when the thing, 
though in effect coinciding, is considered under a different as- 
pect ; when what is single in the subject is divided in the 
predicate, and conversely; or when what is a whole in the 
one, is regarded as a part of something else in the other; 
such propositions lead to the discovery of innumerable, and 
apparently remote relations. One added to four may be ac- 
counted no other than a definition of the word^re, as was re- 
marked above. But when I say, " Two added to three are 
equal to five," I advance a truth, which, though equally clear, 
is quite distinct from the preceding. Thus, if one should af- 
firm, " twice fifteen make thirty," and again, *' thirteen added 
to seventeen make thirty," nobody would pretend that he 
had repeated the same proposition in other words. The 
cases are entirely similar. In both, the same thing is predi 
cated of ideas which, taken severally, are different. From 
these, again, result other equations, as, " One added to four 
are equal to two added to three," and " twice fifteen are equal 
lo thirteen added to seventeen." 

Now it is by the aid of such simple and elementary prin- 
ciples that the arithmetician and the algebraist proceed to 
the most astonishing discoveries. Nor are the operations of 
the geometrician essentially different. By a very few steps 
you are made to perceive the equality, or, rather, the coinci- 
dence of the sum of the two angles, formed by one straight 
line falling on another, with two right angles. By a process 
equally plain, you are brought to discover, first, that if one 
side of a triangle be produced, the external angle will be 
equal to both the internal and opposite angles ; and then, that 
all the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles. So 
much for the nature and use of the first kind of intuitive evi- 
dence, resulting from pure intellection. 

Part II. Consciousness. 

The next kind is that which ariseth from consciousness. 
Hence every man derives the perfect assurance that he hath 
of his own existence. Nor is he only in this way assured 
that he exists, but that he thinks, that he feels, that he sees, 
th;it he hears, and the like. Hence his absolute certainty 
in regard to the reality of his sensations and passions, and of 
everything whose essence consists in being perceived. Nor 
does this kind of intuition regard only the truth of the origi- 
nal feelings or impressions, but also many of the judgments are formed by the mind, on comparing these one with 
another. Thus, the judgments we daily and hourly form 
concerning resemblances or disparities in visible objects, or 
«ize in things tangible, where the odds is considerable, darkes 


or lighter tints in colours, stronger or weaker tastes or smells, 
are all self-evident, and discoverable at once. It is from the 
same principle that, in regard to ourselves, we judge infallibly 
concerning the feelings, whether pleasant or painful which 
we derive from what are called the internal senses, and pro- 
nounce concerning beauty or deformity, harmony or discord, 
the elegant or the ridiculous. The difference between this 
kind of intuition and the former will appear on the slightest 
reflection. The former concerns only abstract notions or 
ideas, particularly in regard to number and extension, the ob- 
jects purely of the understanding ; the latter concerns only 
the existence of the mind itself, and its actual feelings, im- 
pressions, or affections, pleasures or pains, the immediate 
subjects of sense, taking that word in the largest acceptation. 
Th(; former gives rise to those universal truths, first princi- 
ples, or axioms, which serve as the foundation of abstract 
science ; whereas the latter, though absolutely essential to 
ilie individual, yet, as it only regards partfcular perceptions, 
wliich represent no distinct genus or species of objects, the 
judgments resulting thence cannot form any general positions 
to which a chain of reasoning may be fastened, and, conse- 
quently, are not of the nature of axioms, though both similar 
and equal in respect of evidence. 

Part III. Common Sense. 

The third sort is that wliich ariseth from what hath been 
termed, properly enough, common sense* as being an original 

* The first among the moderns who took notice of this principle, as one 
of the genuine springs of onr knowledge, was Huffier, a French philosopher 
of the present century, in a book entitled Traile des Premieres V^riiez ; one 
who, to an uncommon degree of acuteness in matters of abstraction, added 
that solidity of judgment which hath prevented in him, what had proved 
the wreck of many great names in philosophy, his understanding becoming 
ihe dupe of his ingenuity. This doctrine hath lately, in our own country, 
been set in the clearest light, and supported by invincible force of argument, 
tjy two very able writers in the science of man, Dr. Reid, in his Inqmnj 
into the Human Mind, and Dr. Bealtie, in his Essat/ on the Immutabihly of 
Truth. 1 beg leave to remark in this place, that though, for distmction's 
sake, 1 use the term common sense in a more limited signification than either 
of the authors last mentioned, there appears to be no real difference in our 
si^ntiments of the thing itself. I am not ignorant that this doctrine has been 
lately attacked by Dr. Priestley in a most extraordinary manner, a manner 
ivhich no man who has any regard to the name of Englishman or of phi- 
losopher will ever desire to see imitated in this or any other country, f 
have read the performance, but have not been able to discover the author's 
Bentiments in relation to the principal point in dispute. He says, expressly, 
r Kxamination of Dr. Rcid's Inquiry, &c., p. 119], "Had these writers,'' 
Messieurs Reid, Beattie, and Oswald, "assumed, as the elements of their 
ccmnion sense, certain truths which are so plain that no man could douhj 
of them (without entering into the ground of our assent to them), their 
conduct would have been liable to very little objection." And is not this 
the very thing which these writers have done ? What he means to signify 
by the parenthesis (" without entering into the ground tii our as.sent t^ 

THE I'lULCJSuriiV (iK lUlETORIC. 61 

source of knowledge common to all mankind. I own, indeed 
that in different persons it prevails in difterent degrees of 

them") it is not easy to guess. By a ground of assent to any proposition 
is corimioniy understood a reason or argument in support of it. JNovv, by 
his own hypothesis, \,;iere are truths so plain, tliat no man can doubi ot 
them. If so, what ground of assent beyond their own plainness ought wa 
to seelt ? what besides this can we ever hope to find, or what better reason 
need be given for denominating such truths the dictates of common sense? 
If something plainer could be found to serve as evidence of any of them, 
then this plainer truth would be admitted as the first principle, and ihe other 
would be considered as deduced by reasoning. But notwithstanding the 
mistake in the instance, the general doctrine of primary truths would re- 
main unhurt. It seems, liowever, that though their conduct would have 
been liable to very little, it would have been liable to some objection. " All 
that could have been said would have been, that, without any necessity, 
they had made an innovation in the received use of a term " 1 have a bet- 
ter opinion of these gentlemen than to imagine, that if the thing which they 
contend for be admitted, they will enter into a dispute v;ith any person 
about the name ; thuugh in my judgment, even as to this, it is not they, but 
lie, who is ll'.e innovator. He proceeds, " For no person ever denied that 
there are self-evident truths, and that these must be assumed, as the found 
ation of all our reasoning. 1 never met with any person who did not ac 
knowledge this, or heard of any argumentative treatise that did not go upon 
ihe supposition of it." Now if this be the case, I would gladly know what 
IS the great point he controverts. It is, whether such self-evident truths 
shall be denominated principles of common sense, or be distinguished by 
some other appellation. Was it worthy any man's while to write an octavo 
of near 400 pages for the discussion of such a question as this? And if, 
as he assures us, they have said more than is necessary in proof of a truth 
which he himself thinks indisputable, was it no more than necessary in Dr. 
Priestley to compose so large a volume, in order to convince the world that 
loo much had been said already on the subject? I do not enter into the 
examination of his objections to some of the particular principles adduced 
as primary truths. An attempt of this kind would be foreign to my purpose ; 
besides thai the authors he has attacked are better qualified for defending 
their own doctrine, and, no doubt, will do it, if they think there is occasion, 
I shall only subjoin two remarks on this book. The first is, that the author, 
through the whole, confounds two things totally distinct — certain associa- 
tions of ideas, and certain judgments implying belief, v^hich, though in 
some, are not in all cases, and, therefore, not necessarily connected with 
association. And if so, merely to account for the association, is in no case 
to account for the belief with which it is attended. Nay, admitting his plea, 
[page 8f)], that, by the principle of association, not only the ideas, but the 
concomitant belief may be accounted for, even this does not invalidate the 
iloctrine he impugns. For, let it be observed, that it is one thing to assign 
a cause which, from the mechanism of our nature, has given rise to a par- 
jcular tenet or belief, and another thing to produce a reason by which the 
understanding has been convinced. Now, unless this be done as to the 
pt'iiciples in question, they must be considered as primary truths in respect 
ol the understanding, which never deduced them from other truths, and 
w.iich is under a necessity, in all her moral reasonings, of founding upon 
Ihem. In fact, to give any other account of our conviction of them, is to 
confirm, instead of confuting the doctrine, that in all argumentation they 
must be regarded as primary truths, or truths which reason never inferred, 
through any medium, from other truths previously perceived. My second 
remark is, that though this examiner has, from Dr. Reid, given us a cata- 
logue of first principles, which he deems unworthy of the honourable place 
assigned them, he has nowhere thought proper to give us a li»* •^f thos« 
»elf-evident truths which, by his own account, and n his own expr'-a; worrU 


Strength ; but no human creature hath been found originally 
and totally destitute of it, who is not accounted a monster in 
his kind : for such, doubtless, are all idiots and changelings. 
By madness, a disease which makes terrible havoc on ihe 
faculties of the mind, it may be in a great measure, but is 
never entirely lost. 

It is purely hence that we derive our assurance of such 
truths as these : " Whatever has a beginning has a cause." 
' When there is, in the effect, a manifest adjustment of the 
several parts to a certain end, there is intelligence in the 
cause." " The course of nature will be the same to-morrow 
that it is to-day ; or, the future will resemble the past." 
" There is such a thing as body ; or, there are material sub- 
stances independent of the mind's conceptions." " There are 
other intelligent beings in the universe besides me." " The 
clear representations of my memory, in regard to past events, 
are indubitably true." These, and a great many more of the 
same kind, it is impossible for any man by reasoning to evince, 
as might easily be shown, were this a proper place for the dis 
cussion. And it is equally impossible, without a full convic- 
tion of them, to advance a single step in the acquisition ol 
knowledge, especially in all that regards mankind, life, and 

1 am sensible that some of these, to men not accustomed 
to inquiries of this kind, will appear, at first, not to be primary 
principles, but conclusions from other principles ; and some 
of them will be thought to coincide with the other kinds of 
intuition above mentioned. Thus the first, " Whatever hath 
a beginning hath a cause," may be thougnt to stand on the 
same footing with mathematical axioms. I acknowledge that, 
in point of evidence, they are equal, and it is alike impossible, 
in Cither case, for a rational creature to withhold his assent. 
Nevertheless, there is a diflference in kind. All the axioms 
in mathematics are but the enunciations of certain properties 
in our abstract notions, distinctly perceived by the mind, but 
have no relation to anything without themselves, and can 
never be made the foundation of any conclusion concerning 
Hctual existence ; whereas, in the axiom last specified, from 
the existence of one thing we intuitively conclude the exist- 
■•iniist be assumed as the foundation of all our reasoning." How much 
i^lit might have been thrown upon the subject by the contrast? Perhaps 
we should have been enabled, on the comparison, to discover some distinct 
ive characters in his genuine axioms, which would have preserved us from 
the lianger of confounding them with their spurious ones. Nothing is more 
evident than that, in whatever regards matter of fact, the mathematical as 
loms will not answer. These are purely fitted for evolving the abstract re 
iiitioiiB of quantity. This he in effect owns himself [page 39]. It would 
have been obliging, then, and would have greatly contribi'lcd to shorten 
the controversy, if he had given us, al least, a specimen of those self-evi- 
Jenl principles, which, in his estiina''on, a ? the von plus vilra of mora) 


ence of another. This proposition, however, so far differs 
111 my apprehension, from others of the same order, that I 
cannot avoid considering the opposite assertion as not only 
false, but contradictory ; but I do not pretend to explain the 
ground of this difference. 

The faith we give to memory may be thought, on a super- 
ficial view, to be resolvable into consciousness, as well as 
that we give to the immediate impressions of sense. But on 
a little attention one may easily perceive the difference. To 
believe the report of our senses doth, indeed, commonly im- 
ply, to believe the existence of certain external and corporeal 
objects, which give rise to our particular sensations. This, 
1 acknowledge, is a principle which doth not spring from con- 
sciousness (for consciousness cannot extend beyond sensa- 
tion), but from common sense, as well as the assurance we 
liave in the report of memory. But this was not intended to 
!)(' included under the second branch of intuitive evidence. 
I'y that firm belief in sense, which I there resolved into con- 
sciousness, I meant no more than to say, I am certain that 1 
see, and feel, and think, what I actually see, and feel, and 
think. As in this I pronounce only concerning my own pres- 
ent feelings, whose essence consists in being felt, and of 
which I am at present conscious, my conviction is reducible 
to this axiom, or coincident with it, " It is impossible for a 
thing to be and not to be at the same time." Now when 1 
say, 1 trust entirely to the clear report of my memory, I mean 
a good deal more than, " I am certain that my memory gives 
such a report, or represents things in such a manner," for 
this conviction I have, indeed, from consciousness, but I 
mean, "I am certain that things happened heretofore at such 
a time, in the precise manner in which I now remember that 
they then happened." Thus there is a reference in the ideas 
of memory to former sensible impressions, to which there is 
nothing analogous in sensation. At the same time, it is evi- 
dent that remembrance is not always accompanied with thi.s 
full conviction. To describe, in words, the difference between 
iI\ose lively signatures of memory which command an unlim- 
ited assent, and those fainter traces which raise opinion only, 
or even doubt, is perhaps impracticable; but no man stands 
in need of such assistance to enable him, in fact, to distinguish 
them for the direction of his own judgment t:nd conduct. 
Some may imagine that it is from experience we come to 
know what faith in every case is due to memory. But it 
will appear more fully afterward that, unless we had impli- 
citl}' relied on the distinct and vivid informations of that fac- 
ulty, we could not have moved a step towards the acquisition 
of experience. It must, however, be admitted, that expe 
lience is of use in assisting us to judge concerning the more 
languid and confused suggestion* of memory ; or, ta sneak 


more properly, concerning the reality of those things of which 
weourselves'are doubtful whether we remember them or not. 

In regard to the primary truths of this order it may be 
urged, tiiat it cannot be affirmed of them ail. at least, as il 
may of the axioms in matliematics, or the assurances we have 
from consciousness that the denial of tlicm implies a mani- 
fest contradiction. It is, perhaps, physically possible that 
the course of nature will be inverted the very next moment, 
liiat my memory is no belter than a delirium, and my life a 
dream ; that all is mer.^ allusion ; that I am the only being 
in the universe, and that there is no such thing as body. No- 
thing can be juster tlian the reply given by Huflier : " It must 
be owned." says he,* "that to maintain propositions the re- 
verse of tiic primary trutlis of common sense, (hith not imply 
a contradiction, it only imf)lies insanity." Hut if any person, 
on account of this difference in the nature of ihese two classes 
nf axioms, should not think the term intuiiive so properly ap- 
plied to the evidence of the last mcniioned, let him denomi- 
nate it, if he please, instinctive : I have no objection to the 
term; nor do 1 think it derogates in the least from the digni- 
ly, tlie certainty, or llie importance of the truths themselves 
Such instincts are no other than the oracles of eternal wis 

For, let it be observed farther, that axioms of this last kind 
<ire as essential to moral reasoning, to all deductions con- 
cerning life and existence, as those of the first kind are to 
the sciences of arithmetic and geometry. Perhaps it will 
appear afterward, that, without the aid of some of them, these 
sciences themselves would be utterly inaccessible tons. Be- 
sides, the mathematical axioms can never extend their influ- 
ence beyond the precincts of abstract knowledge, in regaro 
to number and extension, or assist us in the discover}' of any 
matter of fact : w hereas, with knowledge of the latter kind. 
the whole conduct and business of human life is principally 
and intimately connected. All reasoning necessarily sup- 
poses that there are certain principles in which we must ac- 
ipiiesce, and beyond which we cannot go ; principles clearly 
(liscernible by their own light, which can derive no additional 
evidence from anything besides. On the contrary supposi- 
tion, the investigation of truth would be an endless and a 
f:i,itless task; we should be eternally proving, while nothing 
could ever be proved ; because, by the hypothesis, we could 
never ascend to premises which require no proof. "If there 
be no first truths," says the author lotely quoted,t "there can 
be no second truths, nor third, nor, indeed, any truth at all." 

So much for intuitive evidence, in the extensive meaning 
which hath here been given to that term, as including every- 

• Premieres Vrritez. nnrt i.. chrip. xi. + lb.. Desspin de I'mivrapi* 


thing whose evidence results from the simple contemplation 
of the ideas or perceptions which form tlie proposition under 
consideration, and requires not the intervention of any third 
idea as a medium of proof. This, fur order's sake, I have 
distrib\ited into three classes — the truths of pure intellection, 
of consciousness, and of common sense. Tlie first may be 
denominated metaphysical, the second physical, the thirvl 
iiioral ; all of them natural, original, and unaccountable. 



1'art I. Division of ihe Subject into Scientific and Morai, with 
the principal Distinctions between them. 
All rational or deductive evidence is derived from one or 
other of tliese two sources : from liie invariable properties 
or relations of general ideas ; or from ti.e actual, though per- 
haps variable connexions, subsisting among tilings. The for- 
mer we call demonstrative ; the latter, moral. Demonstra- 
tion is built on pure intellection, and consisleth in an unin 
terrupted series of axioms. propositions formerly dc 
monstrated are takcMi into the series, dolh not in the least in- 
validate this account; inasmuch as these propositions are al.' 
resolvable into axioms, and are admitted as links in the chain 
not because necessary, but merely to avoid the useless pro- 
lixity which frecpienl and tedious repetitions of proofs for 
merly given would occasion. .Moral evidence is founded oti 
the prmciples we have from consciousness and common 
sense improved by experience ; and as it proceeds on this 
general ])resumplion or moral axiom, tliat the conrse of na- 
ture in lime to come will be similar to what it hath been iiilh- 
erlo, it decides, in regard to particulars, concerning tiic future 
from the past, and concernijig things unknown from things 
familiar to us. The hrst is solely conversant about numl.'er 
and extension, and about those other qualities which are meas- 
urable by these. Such are duration, velocity, and weight. 
With regard to such qualities as pleasure and pain, virtue and 
vice, wisdom and folly, beauty and deformity, though they 
admit degrees, yet, as there is no standard or common meas- 
ure by which tlieir dilferences and proportions can be ascer- 
tained and expressed in numbers, they can never become IIia 
subject of demonstrative reasoning. Here rhetoric, it imusI 
be acknowledged, hath little to do. Simplicity of dicitm 
and precision in arrangement, whence results perspicuity 
are. as was observed already,* all the requisites. 'I'liefft-op 
ei province of rhetoric is the second or moral evidence; foi 
to lh« second belong all decisions concerning fact, and thingi 
without us. 

♦ Chap, i 
F a 


But, that the nature of moral evidence may be better under- 
stood, it will not be amiss to remark a few of the most em- 
inent dilTerences between this and the demonstrative. 

The first difference that occurs is in their subjects. The 
subject of the one is, as hath been observed, abstract, inde- 
pendent truth, or tlie unchangeable and necessary relations 
of ideas ; that of the other, the real, but often changeable and 
contingent connexions that subsist among things actually ex- 
isting. Abstract truths, as tlie properties of quantity, have 
no respect to time or to place, no dependance on the volition 
of any being, or on any cause whatever, but are eternally anc 
immutably the same. The very reverse of all this generally 
obtains with regard to fact. In consequence of what has been 
now advanced, assertions opposite to truths of the former 
kind are not only false, but absurd. They are not only not 
true, but it is impossible they should be true, while the mean- 
ings of the words (and, consequently, the ideas compared) re- 
niain the same. This doth not hold commonly in any other 
kind of evidence. Take, for instance, of the first kind, the 
following affirmations : " The cube of two is the half of six- 
teen." " The square of the hypothenuse is equal to the sum 
of the squares of the sides." " If equal things be taken from 
equal things, the remainders will be equal." Contrary prop- 
ositions, as, "The cube of two is more than the half of six- 
teen ;" ''The sqv.ure of the hypothenuse is less than the sum 
of the squares of the sides ;" " If equal things be taken from 
equal things, the remainders will be unequal," are chargeable, 
not only with falsity, but with absurdity, being inconceivable 
and contradictory. Whereas, to these truths, which we ac- 
quire by moral evidence, " Caesar overcame Pompey ;" "The 
sua will rise to-morrow;" "All men will die," the opposite 
assertions, though untrue, are easily conceivable, without 
changing in the least the import of the words, and therefore 
do not imply a contradiction. 

Tile second difference 1 shall remark is, that moral evi- 
dence admits degrees, demonstration doth not. This is a 
plain consequence of the preceding difference. Essential or 
necessary truth, the sole object of the latter, is incompatible 
with degree. And though actual truth, or matter of fact, be 
Uie ultimate aim of the former, likelihood alone, which is sus- 
ceptible of degree, is usually the utmost attainment. What- 
ever is exhibited as demonstration is either mere illusion, and 
so no evidence at all, or absolutely perfect. There is no me- 
dium. In moral reasoning, we ascend from possibility, by au 
mseifsible graduation, to probability, and thence, in the same 
manner, to the summit of moral certainty. On this summit, 
or on any of the steps leading to it, the conclusion of the ar- 
gument may rest. Hence the result of that is, by way of 
•si^inence, denominated science ; and the evidence itself is 


termed scientific ; the result of this is frequently (not always) 
entitled to no higher denomination than opinion. Now, in 
the mathematical sciences, no mention is ever made of opin- 

The third difference is, that in the one there never can be 
any contrariety of proofs ; in the other, there not only may, 
but almost always is. If one demonstration were ever ca- 
pable of being refuted, it could be solely by another demon- 
stration, this being the only sort of evidence adapted to the 
subject, and the only sort by which the former could be 
matched. But, to suppose that contraries are demonstrable, 
is to suppose that the same proposition is both true and false, 
which is a manifest contradiction. Consequently, if there 
should ever be the appearance of demonstration on opposite 
sides, that on one side must be fallacious and sophistical. It 
is not so with moral evidence, for, unless in a few singular 
instances, there is always real, nolapparent evidence on both 
sides. There are contrary experiences, contrary presump 
tions, contrary testimonies, to balance against one another. 
In this case, the probability, upon the whole, is in the propor- 
tion which the evidence on the side that preponderates bears 
to its opposite. We usually say, indeed, that the evidence 
lies on such a side of the question, and not on the reverse ; 
but by this expression is only meant the overplus of evidence 
on comparing both sides. In like manner, when we affirm 
of an event, that it is probable, we say the contrary is only 
possible, although, when they are severally considered, we 
do not scruple to say, this is more probable than that ; or, 
the probabilities on one side outweigh those on the other. 

The fourth and last difference I shall observe is, that sci- 
entific evidence is simple, consisting of only one coherent 
series, every part of which depends on the preceding, and, 
as it were, suspends the following : moral evidence is gen- 
erally complicated, being, in reality, a bundle of independent 
Droofs. The longest demonstration is but one uniform chain, 
the links whereof, taken severally, are not to be regarded as 
so many arguments, and consequently, when thus f.iKen,they 
conclude nothing; but taken together, and in their proper or- 
der, they form one argument which is perfectly conclusive. 
It is true, the same theorem may be demonstrable in different 
ways, and by different mediums ; but as a single demonstra- 
tion clearly understood commands the fullest conviction, ev- 
ery other is superfluous. After one demonstrative proof, a 
man ma)' try a second, purely as an exercise of ingenuity, 
or the better to assure himself that he hath not committed 
an oversight in the first. Thus it may serve to warrant the 
regular procedure of his faculties, but not to make an addi- 
tion to the former proof, or supply any deficiency perceived 
in it. So fai is it from answering this end, that he is no soon- 


er sensible of a defect in an attempt of this natt'ie, than the 
whole is rejected as good for nothing and carrying with it 
no degree of evidence whatever. In moral reas Miing, on the 
contrary, there is often a combination of many distinct top- 
ics of argument, no way dependant on one another. Each 
hath a certain portion of evidence belonging to itself, eacl 
bestows on the conclnsion a particular degree of likelihood, 
of all which accunmlated the credibility of the fact is com- 
pounded. The former may be compared to an arch, no part 
of which can subsist independently of the rest. If you make 
any breach in it, you desiroy the whole. The Matter may be 
compared to a tower, the height whereof is but the aggregate 
of the heights of the several parts reared above one another, 
and so may be gradually diminished, as it was gradually raised. 
So mucli for the respective natures of scientific and of mor- 
al evidence, and those characteristical qualities which dis- 
criminate them from each other. On a survey of the whole, 
it seems indubitable that, if the former is infinitely superior 
in point of autiiority, the latter no less excels in point of im- 
jjorlance. Abstract trutli, as far as it is tlie object of our 
faculties, is almost entirely confined to quantity, concrete or 
discrete. The sphere of Demonstration is narrow, but with- 
in her spliere she is a despotic sovereign, her sway is uncon- 
trollable. Her rival, on the contrarj', hath less povver, but 
wider empire. Her forces, indeed, are not always irresisti- 
ble, but the whole world is comprised in her dominions Re- 
ality or fact comprehends the laws and the works of nature, 
as well as the arts and the institutions of men; in brief, all 
the beings which fall under the cognizance o( the human 
mind, with all their modifications, ojjerations, and efiects. By 
the first, we must acknowledge, when applied to things, and 
combined with the discoveries of the second, our researches 
into nature in a certain line are facilitated, the Mnderslaiidinf; 
is enlightened, and many of the arts, both elegant and useful 
are improved and perfected. Without the aii* of the second 
society must not only sutler, but perish. Human nature it- 
self could not subsist. This organ of knowledge, which ex- 
tends its inlluence to every precinct of philosophy, and governs 
in most, serves also to regulate all the ordinary, but indispen- 
sable concernments of life. To these it is admirably adapted, 
notwithstanding its inferiority in respect of dignity, accura- 
cy, and perspicuity ; for it is principally to the ncquisitions 
procured by experience that we owe the use o( language, 
and the knowledge of almost everytiiing that makes the soul 
of a man diller from that of a new-born infant. On the oth- 
er hand, there is no despot so absolute as not to be liable to 
a check on some side or other, and that the prerogai'ves of 
demonstration are not so very considerable as on a cursory 
view one is apt to imagine ; that this, as well as every otlipr 


ojteration of the intellect, must partake in the weakness m- 
cident to all our mental faculties, and inseparable from our 
nature, 1 shall afterward take an opportunity particularly lo 

Part II. The Nature and Origin of Experience. 

I should now consider the principal tribes comprehended 
under the general name of moral evidence ; but, that every 
difficulty may be removed which might retard our progress 
in the proposed discussion, it will be necessary, in the first 
place, to explore more accurately those sources in our nature 
which give being to experience, and, consequently, to all those 
attainments, moral and intellectual, that are derived from it. 
'i'hese sources are two, sense and memory. The senses, 
both external and internal, are the original inlets of percep- 
tion. They inform the mind of the facts which, in the pres- 
ent instant, are situated within the sphere of their activity, 
and no sooner discharge their office in any particular instance 
than the articles of information exhibited by them aredevolv 
ed on the memory. Remembrance instantly succeeds sen 
sation, insomuch that the memory becomes the sole repos 
itory of the knowledge received from sense ; knowledge 
which, without this repository, would be as instantaneously 
lost as it is gotten, and could be of no service to the mind. 
Our sensation would be no better than the fleeting pictures 
of a moving object on a camera obscura, which leave not 
the least vestige behind them. Memory, therefore, is the 
only original voucher extant of those past realities for which 
we had once the evidence of sense. Her ideas are, as it 
were, the prints that have been left by sensible impressions. 
But !rom these two faculties, considered in themselves, there 
results to us the knowledge only of individual facts, and only 
of such facts as either heretofore have come, or at present 
do come under the notice of our senses. 

Now, in order to render this knowledge useful to us in dis- 
covering the nature of things, and in regulating our conduct, 
a farther process of the mind is necessary, which deserves 
to be carefully attended to, and may be thus illustrated. I 
have observed a stone fall to the ground, wlien nothing in- 
tervened to impede its motion. This single fact produces lit- 
tle or no effect on the mind beyond a bare remembrance. 
At another time, I observe the fall of a tile, at another of an 
apple, and so of almost every kind of body in the like situa- 
tion. Thus, my senses first, and then my memory, furnish 
me with numerous examples, which, though different in every 
other particular, are similar in this, tliat they present a body 
moving dow-nward, till obstructed either by the ground or by 
some intervcnient object. Hence my first notion of gravita- 
tion For, with regard to the similar circumstances of difl^er- 


ent facts, as by the repetition such circumstances are more 
deeply imprinted, the mind acquires a habit of retaining them, 
omitting those circumstances peculiar to each, wherein then 
difference consists. Hence, if objects of any kind, in a par- 
ticular manner circumstanced, are remembered to have been 
usually, and still more if uniformly, succeeded by certain 
particular consequences, the idea of the former, in the sup- 
posed circumstance introduced into the mind, immediately 
associates the idea of the latter; and if the object itself, so 
circumstanced, be presented to the senses, the mind instant- 
ly anticipates the appearance of the customary consequence. 
This holds also inversely. The retention and association, 
above explained, are called experience. The anticipation is 
in effect, no other than a particular conclusion from that ex- 
perience. Here we may remark, by-the-way, that though 
memory gives birth to experience, which results from the 
comparison of facts remembered, the experience or habitual 
association remains, when the individual facts on which it is 
founded are all forgotten. I know from an experience, which 
excludes all doubt, the power of fire in melting silver, and 
yet may not be able at present to recollect a particular in 
stance in which I have seen this effect produced, or even in 
which I have had the fact attested by a credible witness. 

Some will perhaps object, that the account now given 
makes our experimental reasoning look like a sort of mech- 
anism, necessarily resulting from the very constiiution of the 
mind. I acknowledge the justness of the remark, but do not 
think that it ought lo be regarded as an objection. It is plain 
that our reasoning in this way, if you please to call it so, is 
very early, and precedes all reflection on our faculties, and 
the manner of applying them. Those who attend to the 
progress of human nature through its different stages, and 
through childhood in particular, will observe that children 
make great acquisitions in knowledge from experience, long 
before they attain the use of speech. The beasts, also, in theii 
sphere, improve by experience, which hath in the.m just the 
same foundations of sense and memory as in us, and hath, 
besides, a similar influence on their actions. It is precisely 
in the same manner, and with the same success, that yoG 
might train a dog, or accustom a child, to expect food on your 
calling to him in one tone of voice, and to dread your reseni- 
ment when you use another. The brutes have evidently the 
rudiments of this species of rationality, which extends as far 
in them as the immediate purposes of self-preservation re 
quire, and wdiich, whether you call it reason or instinct, tliey 
both acquire and use in the same manner as we do. That it 
reaches no farther in them, seems to arise from an original 
mcapacity of classing and (if I may use the expression) gen- 
eralizing their perceptions; an exercise which to us verv 


quickly becomes familiar, and is what chiefly fits us for the 
use of language. Indeed, in the extent of this capacity, as 
much, perhaps, as in anything, lies also the principal natural 
superiority of one man over another. 

But, that we may be satisfied that to this kind of reason- 
in;^, in its earliest and simplest form, little or no reflection is 
necessary, let it be observed, that it is now universally ad- 
mitted by opticians, that it is not purely from sight, but from 
sight aided by experience, that we derive our notions of the 
distance of visible objects from the eye. The sensation, say 
tliey, is instantaneously followed by a conclusion or judgment 
founded or. experience. The point is determined from ihe 
different phases of the object, found, in former trials, to be 
connected with different distances, or from the effort that ac- 
companies the different conformations we are obliged to give 
the organs of sight, in order to obtain a distinct vision of the 
object. Now if this be the case, as I think hath been suffi- 
ciently evinced of late, it is manifest that this judgment is so 
truly instantaneous, and so perfectly the result of feeling and 
association, that the forming of it totally escapes our notice. 
Perhaps in no period of life will you find a person that, on the 
first mention of it, can be easily persuaded that he derives 
this knowledge from experience. Every man will be ready 
to tell you that he needs no other witnesses than his eyes to 
satisfy him that objects are not in contact with his body, but 
are at diflferent distances from him, as well as from one an- 
other. So passive is the mind in this matter, and so rapid 
are the transitions which, by this ideal attraction, she is im- 
pelled to make, that she is, in a manner, unconscious of her 
own operations. There is some ground to think, from the 
exact analogy which their organs bear to ours, that the dis- 
covery of distance from the eye is attained by brutes in the 
same manner as by us. As to this, however, I will not be 
positive. But though, in this way, the mind acquires an early 
perception of the most obvious and necessary truths, without 
which the bodily organs would be of little use, in matters less 
important, her procedure is much slower, and more the re- 
sult of voluntary application ; and as the exertion is more de- 
liberate, she is more conscious of her own activity, or, at 
least, remembers it longer. It is, then, only that in common 
style we honour her operation with the name of reasoning i 
though there is no essential diff"erence between the two 
cases. It is true, indeed, that the conclusions in the first 
way, by which also in infancy we learn language, are com- 
monly more to be regarded as infallible, than those eflectod 
m the second. 

Part III. The Subdivisions of Moral Reasoning. 
But to return to the prooosed distribution of moral evi 

72 THE rniLosoPHV of riietoric. 

dence. Under it I include these three tribes, experience, 
analogy, and testimon3\ To these I shall subjoin the con- 
sideration of a fourth, totally distinct from them all, but which 
appears to be a mixture of the demonstrative and the mora), 
or, rather, a particular application of the former, for ascer- 
taining the precise force of the latter. The evidence I mean 
s that resulting from calculations concerning chances. 

I. Experience. 

The first of these I have named peculiarly the evidence of 
experience, not with philosophical propriety, but in compli- 
ance with common language, and for distinction's sake 
Analogical reasoning is surely reasoning from a more indi- 
rect experience. Now as to this first kind, our experience is 
either uniform or various. In the one case, provided the 
facts on which it is founded be sufl[iciently numerous, the 
conclusion is said to be morally certain. In the other, the 
conclusion built on the greater number of instances is said to 
be probable, and more or less so, according to the proportion 
which liie instances on that side bear to those on the oppo- 
site. Thus, we are perfectly assured that iron thrown into 
the river will sink, that deal will float, because these conclu- 
sions are built on a full and uniform experience. That in 
the last week of December next it will snow in any part of 
Britain specified, is perhaps probable; that is, if, on inquiry 
or recollection, we are satisfied that this hath more frequent- 
ly happened than the contrary ; that some time in that month 
It will snow is more probable, but not certain, because, though 
this conclusion be founded on experience, that experience is 
not uniform ; lastly, that it will snow some time during winter, 
will, J believe, on the same principles, be pronounced certain. 

It was affirmed that experience, or the tendency of the 
mind to associate ideas under the notion of causes, effects, 
or adjuncts, is never contradicted by one example only. This 
assertion, it may be thought, is contradicted by the principle 
on which physiologists commonly proceed, who consider one 
accurate experiment in support of a particular doctrine as 
sufficient evidence. The better to explain this phenomenon, 
and the farther to illustrate the nature of experience, I shall 
make the following observations : First, whereas sense and 
tnemory are conversrint only about individuals, our earliest 
experiences imply, or perhaps generate, the notion of a spe- 
cies, including all those individuals which have the most ob- 
vious and universal resemblance. From Charles, Thomas, 
William, w-e ascend to the idea of man ; from Britain, France, 
ISpain, to the idea of kingdom. As our acquaintance with 
nature enlarges, we discover resemblances of a striking and 
important nature, between one species and another, which 
naturally begets the notion of a genus. From comparing 


men with beasts, birds, fishes, and reptiles, we perceive that 
they are all alike possessed of life, or a principle of sensa- 
tion and action, and of an organized body, and hence acquire 
the idea of animal; in like manner, from comparing- king- 
doms with republics and aristocracies, we obtain the idea of 
nation, and thence, again, rise in the same track to ideas still 
more comprehensive. Farther, let it be remembered, that 
by experience we not only decide concerning the future from 
tlie past, but concerning things uncommon from things famil- 
iar, wiiicli resemble them. 

Now to apply this observation : A botanist, in traversing 
the fields, lights on a particular plant, which appears to be ol 
a species he is not acquainted with. The flower, he observes 
is monopetalous, and the number of flowers it carries is sev- 
en. Here are two facts that occur to his observation ; let us 
consider in what way he will be disposed to argue from them. 
From the first he does not hesitate to conclude, not only as 
probable, but as certain, that this individual, and all of the 
same species, invariably produce monopetalous flowers. 
From the second, he by no means concludes, as either cer- 
tain or even probable, that the flowers which either this plant, 
or others of the same species, carry at once, will always be 
seven. This diff'erence, to a superficial inquirer, might seem 
capricious, since there appears to be one example, and but 
one in either case, on which the conclusion can be founded. 
The truth is, that it is not from this example only that he de- 
duces these inferences. Had he never heretofore taken the 
smallest notice of any plant, he could not have reasoned at 
all from these remarks. The mind recurs instantly from the 
unknown to all the other known species of the same genus, 
and thence to all the known genera of the same order or 
tribe ; and having experienced in the one instance a regulari- 
ty in every species, genus, and tribe, which admits no excep- 
tion ; in the other, a variety as boundless as is that of sea- 
son, soil, and culture, it learns hence to mark the diff'erence. 

Again, we may observe that, on a closer acquaintance with 
those objects wherewith we are surrounded, we come to dis- 
cover that they are mostly of a compound nature, and that 
not only as containing a complication of those qualities called 
accidents, as gravity, mobility, colour, extension, figure, so- 
lidity, which are common almost to all matter, not only as 
consisting of different members, but as comprehending a mix- 
ture of bodies, often very different in their nature and prop- 
erties, as air, fire, water, earth, salt, oil, spirit, and the like. 
These, perhaps, on deeper researches, will be found to con- 
sist of materials still simpler. Moreover, as we advance in 
tiie study of nature, we daily find more reason to be convin- 
ced of her constancy in all lier operations, that like causes in 
like cir^ftumstances always produce like effects, and inverse- 



ly, like effects always flow from like causes. The incun- 
staucy which appears at first in some of Nature's works, a 
more improved experience teacheth us to account for in this 
manner. As most of the objects we know are of a complex 
nature, on a narrow scrutiny we find that the effects ascribed 
to them ought often solely to be ascribed to one or more ol 
the component parts ; that the other parts no way contribute 
lo the production ; tliat, on the contrary, they sometimes tend 
to hinder it. If the parts in the composition of similar ob- 
jects were always in equal quantity, their being compounded 
would make no odds ; if the parts, though not equal, bore al- 
ways the same proportion to the whole, this would make a 
difference, but such as in many cases might be computed. 
In both respects, however, there is an immense variety. 
Perhaps every individual differs from every other individual 
of tlie same species, both in the quantities and in the propor- 
tions of its constituent members and component parts. This 
diversity is also founded in other things, which, though hard- 
ly reducible to species, are generally known by the same 
name. The atmosphere in the same place at different times, 
or at the same time in different places, differs in density, 
heat, humidity, and the number, quality, and proportion of t!ie 
vapours or particles with which it is loaden. The more, then, 
we become acquainted with elementary natures, the more we 
are ascertained by a general experience of the uniformity ol 
their operations. And though, perhaps, it be impossible for 
us to attain the knowledge of the siinplest elements of any 
body, yet, when anything appears so simple, or, ratiier, so 
exactly uniform, as that we have observed it invariably to 
produce similar effects, on discovering any new effect, though 
but by one experiment, we conclude, from the general ex- 
perience of the efficient, a like constancy in this energy as 
in the rest. Fire consumes wood, melts copper, and hardens 
clay. In these instances it acts uniformly, but not in these 
only. I have always experienced hitherto, that whatever oi 
any species is consmned by it at once, all of the same spe- 
cies it will consume upon trial at any time. The like may 
be said of what is melted, or hardened, or otherwise altered 
by it. If, then, for the first time, I try the influence of fire 
on any fossil, or other substance, whatever be the effect, I 
readily conclude that fire will always produce a similar effect 
on similar bodies. This conclusion is not founded on this 
single instance, but on this instance compared with a gener- 
al experience of 'be regularity of this element in all its oper- 

So much for the first tribe, the evidence of experience, on 
which I have enlarged the more, as it is, if not the foiinda 
tion, at least the criterion, of all moral reasoning whatever. 
It is, besides, the principal organ of truth in all the branches 


of physioloj^ (I use the word in its largest acceptation), in. 
eluding natural history, astronomy, geography, mechanics, 
optics, hydrostatics, meteorology, medicine, chemistry. Un- 
der the general term I also comprehend natural theology and 
psychology, which, in my opinion, have been most unnatu- 
rally disjoined by philosophers. Spirit, which here compri- 
ses only the Supreme Being and the human soul, is surely as 
much included under the notion of natural object as a body 
is, and is knowable to the philosopher purely in the same 
way, by observation and experience. 

II. Analogy. 

The eviaence of analogy, as was hinted above, is but a 
more indirect experience, founded on some remote similitude. 
As things, however, are often more easily comprehended by 
the aid of example than by definition, I shall in that manner 
illustrate the difference between experimental evidence and 
analogical. The circulation of the blood in one human body 
is, I shall suppose, experimentally discovered. Nobody will 
doubt of this being a sufficient proof, from experience, that 
the blood circulates in every human body. Nay, farther, 
when we consider the great similarity which other animal 
bodies bear to the human body, and that both in the structure 
and in the destination of the several organs and limbs ; par- 
ticularly when we consider the resemblance in tlie blood it- 
self, and bloodvessels, and in the fabric and pulsation of the 
heart and arteries, it will appear sufficient experimental evi- 
dence of the circulation of the blood in brutes, especially ii' 
quadrupeds. Yet, in this application, it is manifest that the 
evidence is weaker than in the former. But should 1 from 
the same experiment infer the circulation of the sap in vege- 
tables, this would be called an argument only from analogy. 
Now all reasonings from experience are obviously weakened 
in proportion to the remoteness of the resemblance subsist- 
ing between that on which the argument is founded, and that 
concerning which we form the conclusion. 

The same thing may be considered in a different way. 1 
have learned from experience that like effects sometimes pro 
ceed from objects which faintly resemble, but not near so 
frequently as from objects which have a more perfect like- 
ness. By this experience, I am enabled to determine the de- 
grees of probability from the degrees of similarity, in the dif- 
ferent cases. It is presumable that the former of these ways 
has the earliest influence, when the mind, unaccustomed to 
reflection, forms but a .veak association, and, consequently, 
but a weak expectation of a similar event from a weak re- 
semblance. The latter seem.s more the result of thought 
and is better adapted to the ordinary forms of reasoning. 

It is allowed that analogicril evidfiiice is at best but a feeble 


support, and is hardly ever honoured with the name of proof. 
Nevertheless, when the analogies are numerous, and the sub- 
ject admits not evidence of another kind, it doth not want its 
efficacy. It must be owned, however, that it is generally 
more successful in silencing objections than in evincing truth, 
and on this account may more properly be styled the defen- 
sive arms of the orator than the offensive. Though it rarely 
refutes, it frequently repels refutation, like those weapons 
which, though they cannot kill the enemy, will ward his 

III. Testimony. 
The third tribe is the evidence of testimony, which is ei- 
ther oral or written. This, also, hath been thought by some 
but unjustly, to be solely and originally derived from the same 
source, experience. f The utmost in regard to this that can 
be affirmed with truth is, that the evidence of testimony is to 
be considered as strictly logical, no farther than human vc 
racity in general, or the veracit)' of witnesses of such a char- 
acter, and in such circumstances in particular, is supported , 
or, perhaps, more properly, hath not been refuted by experi- 
ence. But that testimony, antecedently to experience, hath 
a natural influence on belief, is undeniable. In this it resem 
bles memory; for though the defects and misrepresentations 
of memory are corrected by experience, yet that this faculty 
hath an innate evidence of its own, we know from this, that if 
we had not previously given an implicit faith to memory, we 
had never been able to acquire experience. This will appear 
from a revisal of its nature, as explained above. Nay, it 
must be owned, that in what regards single facts, testimony 
is more adequate evidence than any conclusion from expe- 
rience. The immediate conclusions from experience are 
general, and run thus : " This is the ordinary course of na- 
ture." " Such an event may reasonably be expected, when 
all the attendant circumstances are similar." When we de- 
scend to particulars, the conclusion necessarily becomes 
weaker, being more indirect; for, though all the knmvn cir- 
cumstances be similar, all the actual circumstances mav not 
be similar ; nor is it possible, in any case, to be assured that 
all the actual circumstances are known to us. Accordingly, 
experience is the foundation of philosophy, which consists 
in a collection of general truths, systematically digested. Or. 

* Dr. Butler, in his excellent treatise called The Analogy of Religion, 
Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature, hath shown 
gs how useful this mode of reasoning may be rendered, by the application 
"le hath so successfully made of it, for refuting the cavils of infidelity. 

•■• I had occasion to make some reflections on this subject formerly. See 
Dissertation on Miracle.s, part i., sect. i. There are several ingenious ob 
nervations- on the sanie subject in Keid's Inquiry, ch. vi., sect, xsiii 


the contrary, the direct conclusion from testimony is pirtic 
ular, and runs thus : " This is the fact in the instance speci 
fied." Testimony, therefore, is the foundation of history, 
which is occupied about individuals. Hence we derive oui 
acqfiaintance with past ages, as from experience we derive 
all that we can discover of the future. But the former is 
dignified with the name of knowledge, whereas the latter is 
regarded as matter of conjecture only. When experience i& 
applied to the discovery of the truth in a particular incident, 
we call the evidence presumptive ; ample testimony is ac- 
counted a positive proof of the facts. Nay, the strongest 
conviction built merely on the former is sometimes overturn- 
fed by the slightest attack of the latter. Testimony is capa- 
ble of giving us absolute certainty (Mr. Hume himself being 
judge*) even of the most miraculous fact, or of what is con- 
trary to uniform experience ; for, perhaps, in no other in- 
stance can experience be applied to individual events with so 
much certainty as in what relates to the revolutions of the 
heavenly bodies. Yet, even this evidence, he admits, may 
not only be counterbalanced, but destroyed, by testimony. 

But to return. Testimony is a serious intimation from an- 
other of any fact or observation, as being what he remembers 
to have seen, or lieard, or experienced. To this, when we 
have no positive reasons of mistrust or doubt, we are, by an 
original principle of our nature (analogous to that which com- 
pels our faith in memory), led to give an unlimited assent. 
As on memory alone is founded the merely personal experi 
ence of the individual, so on testimony, in concurrence with 
memory, is founded the much more extensive experience, 
which is not originally our own, but derived from others. -j 
By the first, 1 question not, a man might acquire all the knowl- 
edge necessary for mere animal support, in that rudest state 
of human nature (if ever such a state existed) whicli was 
without speech, and without society ; to the last, in con- 
junction with the other, we are indebted for everything which 
distinguishes the man from the brute, for language, arts, and 
civilization. It hath been observed, that from experience 
we learn to confine our belief in human testimony within the 
proper bounds. Hence we are taught to consider many at- 
tendant circumstances, which serve either to corroborate oi 
to invalidate its evidence. The reputation of the attester, 
his manner of address, the nature of the fact attested, the oc- 
casion of giving the testimony, the possible or probable de- 
sign in giving it, the disposition of the hearers to whom it 
was given, and several other circumstances, have ail consid- 
erable influence in fixing the degree of credibility. But of 
these I shall have occasion to take notice afterward. It de- 

• Essay on Miracles, p. 2. t Dissertation on Miracles, pa)t i, sec. ii 



serves, likewise, to be attended to on this subject, that in a 
number of concurrent testimonif" (in cases wherein there 
could have been no previous concert), there is a probability- 
distinct from that which may be termed the sum of the prob- 
abilities resulting from the testimonies of tho witnesses, a 
probability which would remain even though Uie witnesses 
were of such a character as to merit no faith at ail. This 
probability ariseth purely from the concurrence itself. That 
such a concurrence should spring from chance, is as one to 
infinite ; that is, in other words, morally impossible. If, 
therefore, concert be excluded, there remains no other cause 
but the reality of the fact. 

Now to this species of evidence, testimony, we are first 
immediately indebted for all the branches of philology, such 
as history, civil, ecclesiastic, and literary ; grammar, lan- 
guages, jurisprudence, and criticism ; to which I may add re- 
vealed religion, as far as it is to be considered as a subject 
of liisloricaT and critical inquiry, and so discoverable by nat- 
ural means : and, secondly, to the same source we owe, as 
was hinted above, a great part of that light which is com- 
monly known under the name of experience, but which is, in 
fact, not founded on our own personal observations, or the 
notices originally given by our own senses, but on the at- 
tested experiences and observations of others. So that as 
hence we derive entirely our knowledge of the actions and 
productions of men, especially in other regions, and m for- 
mer ages ; hence also we derive, in a much greater measure 
than is commonly imagined, our acquaintance with Nature 
and her works. Logic, rhetoric, ethics, economics, and pol- 
itics, are properly branches of pneumatology, though very 
closely connected with the philological studies above enu- 

IV'. Calculations of Chances. 

The last kind of evidence I proposed to consider was that 
resulting from calculations of chances. Chance is not com- 
monly understood, either in philosophic or in vulgar language, 
to imply the exclusion of a cause, but our ignorance of the 
cause. It is often employed to denote a bare possibility of 
an event, when nothing is known either to produce or to hin- 
der it. But in this meaning it can never be made the subject 
of calculation, li then only affords scope to the calculator, 
when a cause is known for the production of an effect, and 
when that eflect must necessarily be attended with this, or 
that, or the other circumstance ; but no cause is known to 
deiermine us to regard one particular circumstance, in pref 
erencc to the rest, as that which shall accompany the sup- 
posed effect. The effect is then considered as necessary, but 
the circumstance as only casual or contingent. When a die 


IS thrown out of tlie hand, we know that its gn'avity will make 
it fall ; we know, also, that this, together with its cubical fig- 
ure, will make if lie so, when intercepted by the table, as to 
have one side facing upward. Thus far we proceed on the 
certain principles of a uniform experience ; but there is no 
principle which can lead me to conclude that one side rather 
than another will be turned up. I know that this circum- 
stance is not without a cause ; but is, on the contrary, as 
Teally effected by the previous tossing which it receives in 
the hand or in the box, as its fall and the manner of its lying 
are by its gravity and figure. But the various turns or mo- 
tions given it, in this manner, do inevitably escape my notice, 
and so are held for nothing. I say, therefore, that the chance 
is equal for every one of the six sides. Now if five of these 
were marked with the same figure, suppose a dagger (f), and 
only one with an asterisk (*), 1 should, in that case, say, there 
were five chances that the die would turn up the dagger, for 
one that it would turn up the asterisk ; for the turning up 
each of the six sides being equally possible, there are five 
cases in which the dagger, and only one in which the aster- 
isk, wotild be uppermost. 

This diff'ers from experience, inasmuch as I reckon the prob- 
ability here, not from numbering and comparing the events 
after repeated trials, but without any trial, from balancing 
the possibilities on both sides. But, though different from 
experience, it is so similar, that we cannot wonder that it 
should produce a similar effect upon the mind. These dif- 
ferent positions being considered as equal, if any of five shall 
produce one effect, and but the sixth another, the mind weigh- 
ing the different events, restelh in an expectation of that in 
which the greater number of chances concur ; but still ac- 
companied with a degree of hesitancy, which appears propor- 
tioned to the number of chances on the opposite side. It is 
mucli after the same manner that the mind, on comparing its 
own experiences, when five instances favour one side, to one 
that favours the contrary, determines the greater credibility 
of the former. Hence, in all complicated cases, the very de- 
gree of probability may be arithmetically ascertained. That 
two dice marked in the common way will turn up seven, is 
thrice as probable as that they will turn up eleven, and six 
times as probable as that they will turn up twelve.* The 

• Call one die A, the other B. The chances for 7 are, 

A 1. BO. 
A 2. B 5. 
A3. B 4 

A 4. B 3. 
A 5. B 2. 
AC. B 1. 

The chances for eleven are, 

A G. B 5. 

A 5. B 6. 
Ihe only chance for 12 is A C. B 6. The 1st ?? to the 2d, a» 6 to 8 ; to the 
td as n to 1 


degree of probability is here determined demoP'?'.rai\v«.ly 
It is indeed true, that such mathematical calculaUons may 
be founded on experience, as well as upon chances. Exam- 
ples of this we have in the computations that have been made 
of the value of annuities, ensurances, and several other com- 
mercial articles. In such cases, a great number of instances 
is necessary, the greatest exactness in collecting them on 
?ach side, and due care that there be no discoverable pecu- 
.■arity in any of tiiem, which would render them unfit for 
supporting a general conclusion. 

Part IV. The Superiority of Scientific Evidence re-examined. 

After the enumeration made in the first part of this sec- 
tion of the principal differences between scientific evidence 
and moral, I signified my intention of resuming the subject 
afterward, as far, at least, as might be necessary to show that 
the prerogatives of demonstration are not so considerable 
as, on a cursory view, one is apt to imagine. It will be prop- 
er now to execute this intention. I could not attempt it 
sooner, as the right apprehension of what is to be advanced 
will depend on a just conception of those things which have 
lately been explained. In the comparison referred lo, I con- 
trasted the two sorts of evidence, as tliey are in themselves, 
without considering the inlluence which the necessary appli- 
cation of our faculties in using both has, and ought to have, 
on the elfect. The observations then made in tiiat abstracted 
view of the subject appear to be well founded. But that view 
I acknowledge, doth not comprehend the whole with which 
we are concerned. 

It was observed of memory, that as it instantly succeeds 
sensation, it is the repository of all the stores from which our 
experience is collected, and that without an implicit faith in 
the clear representations of that faculty, we could not ad- 
vance a step in the acquisition of experimental knowledge. 
Vet we know that memory is not infallible ; nor can we pre- 
tend that in any case there is not a physical possibility of her 
making a false report. Here, it may be said, is an irremedi- 
able imbecility in the very fr undation of moral reasoning. 
But is it less so in demonstrative reasoning] This point 
deserves a careful examination. 

It was remarked concerning the latter, that il is a prool 
consisting of an uninterrupted series of axioms. The truth 
of each is intuitively perceived as we proceed. Put this jjro- 
cess is of necessity gradual, and these axioms are all brought 
in succession. It nuist, then, be solely by the aid of memory 
that they are capable of producing conviction in the mind. 
Nor by this do I moan to affirm that we can remember the 
preceding steps, with their connexions, so as to have tlieai 
all present to our view at one instant ; for then we should. ii> 


that instant, perceive the whole intuitively. Our reinem- 
orance, on the contrary, amounts to no more than this, tha* 
the perception of the truth of the axiom to which we have ad- 
vanced in the proof, is accompanied with a strong impression 
on the memory of the satisfaction that the mind received 
from the justness and regularity of what preceded. And in 
this we are under a necessity of acquiescing; for the uuder- 
standiiig is no more capable of contemplating and perceiving, 
at once, the truth of all the propositions in the series, than 
the tongue is capable of uttering them at once. Before we 
make great progress in geometry, we come to demonstrations 
wherein there is a reference to preceding demonstrations ; 
and in these, perhaps, to others that preceded them. The 
bare reflection that as to these we once were satisfied, is 
accounted by every learner, and teacher too, as sufficient. 
And, if it were not so, no advancement at all could be made 
in this science. Yet here, again, the whole evidence is re- 
duced to the testimony of memory. It may be said that, 
along with the remembrance now mentioned, there is often 
in the mind a conscious power of recollecting the several 
steps, whenever it pleases ; but the power of recollecting 
them severally and successively, and the actual instaiitane 
ous recollection of the whole, are widely different. Now 
what is the consequence of this induction 1 It is plainly this, 
that in spite of the pride of mathesis, no demonstration what- 
ever can produce, or reasonably ought to produce, a higher 
ilegree of certainty than that which results from the vivid 
representations of memory, on which the other is obliged to 
lean. Such is here the natural subordination, however ra- 
tional and purely intellectual the former may be accounted, 
however mysterious and inexplicable the latter; for it is man- 
ifest that, without a perfect acquiescence in such represent 
ations, the mathematician could not advance a single step 
beyond his definitions and axioms. Nothing, therefore, is 
more certain, however inconceivable it appeared to Dr. Priest- 
ley, than what was affirmed by Dr. Oswald, that the possibility 
of error attends the most complete demonstration. 

If from theory we recur to fact, we shall quickly find that 
those most deeply versed in this sort of reasoning are con- 
scious of the justness of the remark now made. A geom- 
etrician, I shall suppose, discovers a new theorem, which, 
having made a diagram for the purpose, he attempts to de- 
monstrate, and succeeds in the attempt. The figure he hath 
constructed is very complex, and the demonstration long 
Allow me now to ask. Will he be so perfectly satisfied on 
the first trial as not to think it of importance to make a sec- 
ond, perhaps a third, and a fourth i Whence arises this dif- 
fidence ] Purely from the consciousness of the fallibility ol 
his own faculties. But to what purpose, it may be said, the 

82 THE PHiL>sopnY of rhetoric. 

reiterations of the attempt, since it is impossible for him by 
any efforts, to shake off his dependance on the accuracy of 
bis attention, and fidelity of his memory? Or, what can he 
nave more than reiterated testimonies of his memory, in sup 
port of the truth of its former testimony 1 I acknowledge 
that, after a hundred attempts, he can have no more. But 
even this is a great deal. We learn from experience, that 
fhe mistakes or oversights committed by the mind in one 
operation are sometimes, on a review, corrected in a second, 
or, perhaps, in a third. Besides, the repetition, when no error 
s discovered, enlivens tiie remembrance, and so strengthens 
the conviction. But for this conviction it is plain that we are, 
tn a great measure, indebted to memory, and, in some meas- 
ure, even to experience. 

Arithmetical operations, as well as geometrical, are in their 
nature scientific ; yet the most accurate accountants are very 
sensible of the possibility of committing a blunder, and, there- 
fore, rarely fail, for securing the matter, wlien it is of impor- 
tance, to prove what they have done, by trying to effect the 
same thing another way. Yc»u have employed yourscdf, I 
suppose, ill resolving some difficult problem by algebra, and 
are convinced that your solution is just. One whom you 
know to be an expert algebraist carefully peruses the whole 
operation, and acquaints you that he hath discovered an error 
in your procedure. You are that instant sensible that youi 
conviction was not of such an impregnable nature but that 
his single testimony, in consequence of the confidence you 
repose in his experienced veracity and skill, makes a consid 
erable abatement in it. 

Many cases might be supposed of belief, founded only on 
moral evidence, w-hich it would be impossible thus to shake. 
A man of known probity and good sense, and (if you think it 
makes an addition of any moment in this case) an astrono- 
mer and philosopher, bids you look at the sun as it goes down, 
and tells you, with a serious countenance, that the sun which 
sets to-day will never rise again upon the earth. What w ould 
be the effect of this declaration ' Would it create in you any 
doubts 1 I believe it might, as to the soundness of the man's 
intellect, but not as to the truth of what he said. Thus, i( 
we regard only the effect, demonstration itself doth not al- 
ways produce such immovable certainty as is sometimes 
consequent on merely moral evidence. And if there are, on 
the other hand, some well-known demonstrations, of so great 
authority that it would equally look like lunacy to impugn, it 
may deserve the attention of the curious to inquire how far, 
with respect to the bulk of mankind, these circumstances, 
their having stood the test of ages, their having obtained the 
univeisal suffrage of those who are qualified to examine them 


things purely of the nature of moral evidence, have contrib« 
iited to that unshaken faith with which they are received. 

The principal difference, then, in respect of the result of 
both kinds, is reduced to this narrow point. In mathemati- 
cal reasoning, provided you are ascertained of the regular 
procedure of the mind, to affirm that the conclusion is false 
implies a contradiction ; in moral reasoning, though the pro- 
cedure of the mind were quite unexceptionable, there still re. 
mains a physical possibility of the falsity of the conclusion. 
But how small this difference is in reality, any judicious per- 
son who but attends a little may easily discover. The geom- 
etrician, for instance, can no more doubt whether the book 
called Ruclid's Elements is a human composition, whether its 
contents were discovered and digested into the order in which 
they are there disposed by human genius and art, than he 
can doubt the truth of the propositions therein demonstrated. 
Is he in the smallest degree surer of any of the properties o! 
the circle, than that if he take away his hand from the com- 
passes, with which he is describing it on the wall, they will 
immediately fall to the ground] These things affect his 
mind, and influence his practice, precisely in the same man- 

So much for the various kinds of evidence, whether intui 
tive or deductive ; intuitive evidence, as divided into that ol 
pure intellection, of consciousness, and of common sense, 
under the last of which that of memory is included; deduc- 
tive evidence, as divided into scientific and moral, with the 
subdivisions of the latter into experience, analogy, and testi 
mony, to which hath been added, the consideration of a mix 
ed species concerning chances. So much for the various 
subjects of discourse, and the sorts of eviction of which they 
are respectively susceptible. This, though peculiarly the lo- 
gician's province, is the foundation of all conviction, and, 
consequently, of persuasion too. To attain either of these 
ends, the speaker must always assume the character of the 
close and candid reasoner : for though he may be an acute 
logician who is no orator, he will never be a consummate 
orator who is no logician. 



Having in the preceding chapter endeavoured to trace the 
outlines of natural logic, perhaps with more minuteness than 


m such an inquiry as this was strictly necessary, it might ap. 
pear strange to pass over in silence the dialectic of the 
schools ; an art which, though now fallen into disrepute, 
maintained, for a tract of ages, the highest reputation among 
the learned. What was so long regarded as teaching the only 
legitimate use and application of our rational powers in the 
acquisition of knowledge, ought not, surely, when we are 
omployed in investigating the nature and the different sorts 
of evidence, to be altogether overlooked. 

It is long since I was convinced, by what Mr. Locke hath 
said on the subject, that Ihe syllogistic art, with its figures 
and moods, serves more to display the ingenuity of the in- 
ventor, and to exercise the address and fluency of the learn- 
er, than to assist the diligent inquirer in his researches after 
truth. The method of proving by syllogism appears, even 
on a superficial review, both unnatural and prolix. The rules 
laid down for distinguishing the conclusive from the incon- 
clusive forms of argument, the true syllogism from the vari- 
ous kinds of sophism, are at once cumbersome to the memo- 
ry, and unnecessary in practice. No person, one may ven- 
ture to pronounce, will ever be made a reasoner who stands 
in need of them. In a word, the whole bears the manifest 
indications of an artful and ostentatious parade of learning, 
calculated for giving the appearance of great profundity to 
what, in fad, is very shallow. Such, I acknowledge, have 
been, of a long time, my sentiments on the subject. On a 
nearer inspection, I cannot say I have found reason to alter 
them, though I think I have seen a little farther into the na 
ture of the disputative science, and, consequi-ntly, into the 
grounds of its futility. I shall, therefore, as briefly as possi- 
ble, lay before the reader a few observations on the subject, 
and so dismiss this article. 

Permit me only to premise in general, that I proceed all 
along on tlie supposition that the reader hath some previous 
acquaintance with school logic. It would be extremely su- 
perfluous, in a work like this, to give even the shortest 
abridgment that could be made of an art so well known, 
and which is still to be found in many thousand volumes. 
On the other hand, it is not necessary that he be an adept in 
it ; a mere smattering will sufficiently serve the present pur- 

!\Iy first observation is, that this method of arguing has not 
the least affinity to moral reasoning, the procedure in the one 
being the very reverse of that employed in the other. In 
moral reasoning we proceed by analysis, and ascend from 
particulars to universals ; in syllogizing we proceed by .syn- 
ihosis, and descend from universals to p.^rticulars. The an- 
alytic is the only method which we can follow m the acquisi 
tion of natural knowledge, or of whatever regards actual ex 


isiences ; the synthetic is more properly the method that 
ought to be pursued in the appHcation of knowledg^e already 
acquired. It is for this reason it has been called the didac- 
tic method, as being the shortest way of communicating the 
principles of a science. But even in teaching, as often aa 
we attempt, not barely to inform, but to convince, there is a 
necessity of recurring to the tract in which the knowledge 
we would convey was first attained. Now the method o\ 
reasoning by syllogism more resembles mathematical dem- 
onstration, wherein, from universal principles, called ax- 
ioms, we deduce many truths, which, though general in their 
nature, may, when compared with those first principles, bo 
justly styled particular. Whereas, in all kinds of knowledge 
wherein experience is our only guide, we can proceed to gen- 
eral truths solely by an induction of particulars. 

Agreeably to this remark, if a syllogism be regular in mood 
and figure, and if the premises be true, the conclusion is in- 
fallible. TJie whole foundation of the syllogistic art lies in 
these two axioms: "Things which coincide with the same 
thing, coincide with one another;" and " Two things, where- 
of one does, and one does not coincide with the same thing, 
do not coincide with one another." On the former rest all 
the affirmative syllogisms, on the latter all the negative. Ac- 
cordingly, there is no more mention here of probability and 
of degrees of evidence, than in the operations of geometry 
and algebra. It is true, indeed, that the term probable may be 
admitted into a syllogism, and make an essential part of the 
conclusion, and so it may also in an arithmetical computa- 
tion ; but this does not in the least affect what was advanced 
just now; for, in all such cases, the probability itself is as- 
sumed in one of the premises : whereas, in the inductive 
method of reasoning, it often happens that from certain facts 
we can deduce only probable consequences. 

I observe, secondly, that though this manner of arguing ha.s 
more of the nature of scientific reasoning than of moral, it 
has, nevertheless, not been thought worthy of being adopted 
by mathematicians as a proper method of demonstrating their 
theorems. I am satisfied that mathematical demonstration 
is capable of being moulded into the syllogistic form, having 
made the trial with success on some propositions. But that 
this form is a very incommodious one, and has many disad- 
vantages, but not one advantage of that commonly practised 
will be manifest to every one who makes the experiment 
It is at once more indirect, more tedious, and more obscure 
t may add, that if into those abstract sciences one were to in 
troduce some specious fallacies, such fallacies could be much 
more easily sheltered under the awkward verbosity of this ar- 
tificial method, than under the elegant simplicity of that which 
has hitherto been Msed. 



.My lliird remark, which, by-the-way, is directly coi sequent 
on the two former, shall be, that in the ordinary apjiliration 
of this art \o matters with which we can be made ac(iuainle(i 
only by experience, it can be of litlle or no utility. So far 
from leading the mind, agreeably to the design of all argu- 
ment and investigation, from things known to things un- 
known; and by things evident to things obscure, its usual prog- 
ress is, on the contrar3% from things less known to tilings 
better known, and by things obscure to things evident. But, 
that it may not be thought that I do injustice to the art by this 
representation, I must entreat that the following considera 
tions may be attended to. 

When, in the way of induction, the mind proceeds from in- 
dividual instances to the discovery of such truths as regard a 
species, and from these, again, to such as comprehend a ge- 
nus, we may say, with reason, that as we advance, there 
may be in every succeeding step, and commonly is, less cer- 
tiiiiity than in the preceding; but in no instance whatever 
can there be more. Besides, as the judgment formed con- 
cerning the less general was anterior to that formed concern- 
nig the more general, so the conviction is more vivid arising 
from botli circumstances; that being less general, it is more 
distinctly conceived, and being earlier, it is more deeply im- 
printed. Now the customary procedure in the syllogistic 
science is, as was remarked, the natural method reversed, be- 
ing from general to special, and, consequently, from less to 
more obvious. In scientific reasoning the case is very differ- 
ent, as the axioms or universal truths from which the mathe- 
matician argues are so far from being the slow result of in- 
duction and experience, that they are self-evident. 'I'hey are 
no sooner apprehended than necessarily assented to. 

But, to illustrate the matter by examples, take the follow- 
ing specimen in Barbara, the first mood of the first figure: 
" All nniinals I'eel ; 
.^11 horses are animals; 
Tlicrefore all horses feel." 

It is impossible that any reasonable man, who really doubts 
wliethcr a horse has feeling or is a mere automaton, should 
be convinced by this argument ; for, supposing he uses the 
M.imes horse and animal as standing in the same relation oi 
species and genus which they bear in the common accepta- 
tion of the words, the aigunient you employ is, in effect, but 
an afiirmation of the point which he denies, couched in such 
trrms as include a multitude of other similar affirmations, 
which, whether true or false, are nothing to the purpose. 
Tluis, all animals feci, is only a compendious expression for 
all horses feci, all do^s ftel, all camels feel, all cables fuel, and 
Nil tiirough the whole animal creation. I affirm, besides, that 
lie D'-icedoro here is from th"'ngs less known to things bef- 


ter known. It is possible that one may believe the conclu- 
sion who denies the major; but the reverse is not possible; 
for, to express myself in the language of the art, that may be 
predicated of the species whiih is not predicable of the ge- 
nus ; but that can never be predicated of the genus which is 
not predicable of the species. If one, therefore, were under 
such an error in regard to the brutes, true logic, which is al- 
ways coincident with good sense, would lead our reflections 
to the indications of perception and feeling given by these 
animals, and the remarkable conformity wliich in this respect, 
and in respect of their bodily organs, they bear to our own 

It may be said, that if the subject of the question were a 
creature nuich more ignoble than the horse, there would be 
no scope for this objection to the argument. Substitute, theo. 
the word oysters for horses in the minor, and it will stand thus : 

"All animals feel ; 
All oysters are animals ; 
Therefore ail oysters feci." 

In order to give the greater advantage to the advocate for 
this scholastic art, let us suppose the antagonist does nol 
maintain tlie opposite side from any favour to Des Cartes's. 
theory concerning brutes, but from some notion entertained 
of that par icular order of beings which is the subject of dis- 
pute. It is evident, that though he sliould admit the truth of 
the major, he would regard the minor as merely another man- 
ner of expressing the conclusion : for he would conceive an 
animal no otherwise than as a body endowed with sensation 
or feeling. 

Sometimes, indeed, there is not in the premises any posi- 
tion more generic, under whicli the conclusion can be com- 
prised. In this case, you always find that the same proposi- 
tion is exhibited in different words, insomucli that the stress 
of the argument lies in a mere synonyma, or something equiv- 
alent. The following is an example : 

" The Almighty ought to he worshipped ; 
God is the Almighty ; 
Therefore God ought to be worshipped." 

It would be superfluous to illustrate that this argument could 
have no greater influence on the Epicurean than the first- 
•nentioncd one would have on the Cartesian. To suppose 
.lie contrary is to suppose the conviction effected by the 
charm of a soimd, and not by the sense of what is advanced. 
Thus, also, the middle term and the subject frequently cor- 
respond to cacli other ; as the definition, description, or cir- 
cumlocution, and the name. Of this I shall give an example 
in Disamis, as, in the technical dialect, the third mood of the 
Wiird fiirure is df -lominated : 


" Some men are rapacious ; 
All men are rational nnimals ; 
Therefore some rational animals are rapacious." 

Who does not perceive that rational animals is but a peri 
phrasis for men 1 

It may be proper to subjoin one example, at least, in neg 
ative syllogisms. 'I'lie subsequent is one in Celarent. Hit 
second mood of the first figure : 

"Nothing violent is lasting; 
But tyranny is violent ; 
Therefore tyranny is not lasting." 

Here a thing violent serves for tlie genus of which tyranny la 
a species ; and notiiing can be clearer than that it requires 
much less experience to discover whclher shortness of du- 
ration be justly attributed to tyranny, the species, than wheth- 
er it be justly predicated of every violent thing. The appli 
cation of what was said on the first example to that now giv- 
en is so obvious, that it woidd be losing lime to attempt far- 
ther to illustrate it. 

Logicians have l)e(!n at pains to discriminate the regular 
iiud consequential combinations of the three lerins, as they 
are called, from the irregular and inconsequent. A combina- 
tion of the latter kind, if the defect be in the form, is called 
a paralogism ; if in the sense, a sophism; though sometimes 
these two appellations are confounded. Of the latter, one 
kind is denominated pcliliu prinripii, which is commonly ren- 
dered in English a beginning of the question, and is defined, 
the proving of a thing by itself, whether expressed in the 
same or in different words; or, which amounts to the same 
thing, assuming in the proof the very opinion or principle 
proposed to be proved. It is surprising that this should evei 
liave been by those artists styled a sophism, since it is. it 
fact, so essential to the art, that there is always some radica' 
defect in a syllogism which is not charge.ible with this. The 
truth of what I now affirm will appear to any one, on the 
slightest review of what lias been evinced in the preceding 
part of the chapter. 

The fourth and last observation I shall make on this topic 
is, that the proper ])rovince of the syllogistical science is 
rather the adjustment of our language, in expressing our- 
selves on subjects previously known, than the acquisition ol 
knowledge in things themselves. According to M. du Mar- 
sais, '• lieasoning consists in deducing, inferring, or drawing 
a judgment from other judgments already known; or, rather, 
in showing that the judgment in question has been already 
formed implicitly, insomuch that the only point is ;o develop 
it, and show its identity with some anterior jiid^ment."* 

* '• Le raisonnemenl consiste a dcduire, a infcrer, a tirer un jugement d'au 
tres iiigemens drj.i ronnns ; on plutot a faire voir que le jupement donl il 


N'ow I affirm that the former part of this defirition suits all 
deductive reasoning, whether scientifical or moral, in which 
the principle deduced is distinct from, however closely refla- 
ted to, the principles from which the deduction is made. The 
alter part of the definition, which begins with the words or 
rather, does not answer as an explication of the former, as 
the author seems to have intended, but exactly hits the char- 
acter of syllogistic reasoning, and, indeed, of all sorts of con- 
troversy merely verbal. If you regard only the thing signi- 
fied, the argument conveys no instruction, nor does it for 
ward us in the knowledge of things a single step. But if 
you regard principally the signs, it may serve to correct mis 
application of them, through inadvertency or otherwise. 

in evincing the truth of this doctrine, I shall begin with n 
simple illustration from what may happen to any one in study- 
ing a foreign tongue. I learn from an Italian and French die 
tionary that the Italian word pccora corresponds to the French 
word brebis, and from a French and English dictionary, that 
the French brebis corresponds to the Knglish sheep. Hence 
I form this argunjent, 

" Pecorn is the same willi bi-ebix, 
Brebis is the same with sheep ; 
Theretbre ptcora is the same with sheep." 

This, though not in mood and figure, is evidently conclusive. 
Nay, more, if the words pecora, brebis, and sheep, under the 
notion of signs, be regarded as the terms, it has three dis- 
tinct terms, and contains a direct and scientifical deduction 
from this axiom, "Things coincident with the same thing are 
coincident with one another." On the other hand, let the 
things signified be solely regarded, and there is but one term 
in the whole, namely, the species of quadruped, denoted b\ 
three names above mentioned. Nor is there, in this view 
of the matter, another judgment in all the three propositions 
but this identical one, " A sheep is a sheep." 

Nor let it bn imagined that the only right application can 
be in the acquisition of strange languages. Every tongue 
whatever gives scope for it, inasmuch as in every tongue the 
speaker labours under great inconveniences, especially on 
abstract questions, both from the paucity, obscurity, and am- 
biguity of the words on the one hand, and from his own mis- 
apprehensions and imperfect acquaintance with them on the 
other. As a man may, therefore, by an artful and 
cal use of them, be brought to admit, in certain terms, what 
he would deny in others, this disputatious discipline may, 
iiMvler proper management, by setting in a stronger light the 
inconsistencies occasioned by such improprieties, bo render- 

s'agit, a deja ete porte d"une maniere implicite ; des sorte qu'il n'est plug 
questior. que de le developer, et d'en fa ire voire I'identite avec quelque juga 
merit ao'erieur." — Loglque, Art. 7. 

H a 


ed instrumental in correcting them. It was remarked above," 
.hat such propositions as these " Twelve are a dozen" — 
' Twenty are a score," unless considered as explications of 
^.he words dozen and score, are quite insignificant. This lim- 
.taticn, however, it was necessary to add; for those posi- 
tions whicli are identical when considered purely as relating 
*o the things signified, are nowise identical when regarded 
purely as explanatory of the names. Suppose that through 
the imperfection of a man's knowledge in the language, aided 
by another's sophistry, and perhaps his own inattention, he 
ijj brought to admit of the one term what he would refuse 
01 the other, such an argument as this might be employed, 
"Twelve, you allow, are equal to the fifth part of sixty, 

Now a dozen are equal to twelve ; 

Therefore a dozen are equal to the fifth part of sixty." 

1 mark the case rather strongly, for the sake of illustration 
for I am sensible, that in wliat regards things so definite as 
all names of number are, it is impossible for any who are not 
quite ignorant of the tongue to be misled. But the intelli- 
gent reader will easily conceive, that in abtruse and meta- 
physical subjects, wherein the ternis are often both exten- 
sive and indefinite in their signification, and sometimes even 
equivocal, the most acute and wary may be entangled in them. 
In farther confirmation of my fourth remark, I shall pro- 
duce an example in Camestres, the second mood of the sec- 
ond figure : 

" All animals are mortal ; 

But angels are not mortal ; 

Therefore angels are not animals." 

When the antagonist calls an angel an animal, it must pro 
ceed from one or other of these two causes, either from an 
error in regard to tlie nature of tlie angelic order, or from a 
mistake as to the import of the English word animal. If the 
first be the case — namely, some erroneous opinion about an- 
gels, as that they arc imbodied spirits, generated and corrupt- 
ible like ourselves — it is evident that the forementioned syl- 
logism labours under the common defect of all syllogisms. 
It assumes the very point in question. But if the difference 
aetwcen the disputants be, as it frequently happens, merely 
lerbal, and the opponent uses the word animal as another 
iiame for living creature, and as exactly corresponding to 
the Greek term,! arguments of this sort may be of service 
."or setting the impropriety of such a misapplication of tiie 
English name in a clearer light. For let it be observed, that 
ihough Nature hath strongly marked the principal differon- 
tes to be found in different orders of beings, a procedure 
wlur.h hath suggested to men the manner of classing things 

' Chai). V , sec: i., i)art. L f C*"- 


iiilo g:enera and species, this does not hold equally in every 
case Hence it is that the general terms in different Ian 
(fiiagcs do not always exactly correspond. Some nations 
from particular circumstances, are more affected by one prop- 
erty in objects, others by another. This leads to a different 
distribution of things under their several names. Now, though 
it is not of importance that the words in one tongue exactly 
correspond to those in another, it is of importance that in the 
same tongue uniformity in this respect be, as much as possi- 
ble, observed. Errors in regard to the signs tend not only to 
retard the |;rogress of knowledge, but to introduce errors in 
regard to the things signified. Now, by suggesting the dif- 
ferent attributes comprised in the definition of the term as 
so many mediums in the proof, an appeal is made to the ad- 
versary's practice in the language. In this way such medi- 
ums may be presented as will satisfy a candid adversary that 
the application he makes of the term in question is not con- 
formable to the usage of the tongue. 

On tlic other hand, it is certain that, in matters of an ab 
stract and complex nature, where the terms are comprehen- 
sive, indefinite, not in frequent use, and, consequentl}', not 
well ascertained, men may argue togetlier eternally without 
making the smallest impression on each other, not sensible 
all the while that there is not at bottom any difference be- 
tween them, except as to the import of words and phrases. 
I do not say, however, tiiat this is a consequence peculiar to 
iliis manner of debating, though perhaps oftener resulting 
from it, on account of its many nice distinctions, unmeaning 
subleties, and mazy windings, than from any other manner. 
For it must be owned, that the syllogistic art has at least as 
often been employed for imposing fallacies on the understand 
ing as for detecting those imposed. And though verbal con- 
troversy seems to be its natural province, it is neither the 
only method adapted to such discussions, nor the most ex 

To conclude, then, what shall we denominate the artificial 
system, or organ of truth, as it has been called, of which we 
have been treating? Shall we style it the art of reasoning? 
So honourable an appellation it by no means merits, since, as 
hath been shown, it is ill adapted to scientific matters, and 
for that reason never employed by the mathematician, and is 
utterly incapable of assisting us in our researches into na- 
ture. Shall we then pronounce it the science of logomachy, 
or, in plain English, the art of fighting with words and about 
words? And mi this wordy warfare, shall we say that the 
rules of syllogizing are the tactics ? This would certainly hit 
the matter more nearly ; but I know not how it happens, that 
to call anything logomachy or altercation would be considered 
as giving bad names ; an i when a good use may be made o< 


an invention, it seems unreasonable to fix an odious name 
upon it, which ought only to discriminate the abuse. I shall 
therefore only title it the scholastic art of disputation* li 
is the schoolmen's science of defence. 

When all erudition consisted more in an acquaintance with 
words, and an address in using them, than in the knowledge 
of things, dexterity in this exercitation conferred as much 
lustre on the scholar as agility in the tilts and tournaments 
added glory to the knight. In proportion as the attention ol 
mankind has been drawn off to the study of Nature, the hon- 
ours of this contentious art have faded, and it is now almost 
forgotten. There is no reason to wish its revival, as elo- 
«iuence seems to have been very little benefited by it, and phi- 
losophy still less. 

Nay, there is but too good reason to affirm that there are 
two evils at least which it has gendered. These are, first, an 
Itch of disputing on every subject, however uncontrovertible ; 
the other, a sort of philosophic pride, which will not permit 
us to think that wc believe anything, even a self-evident prin- 
ciple, without a previous reason or argument. In order to 
gratify this passion, we invariably recur to words, and are al 
immense pains to lose ourselves in clouds of our own rais- 
ing. We imagine we are advancing and making wonderful 
progress, while tiie mist of words in which we have involv- 
ed our intellects hinders us from discerning that we are mo 
ving in a circle all the time.f 

* It answers to that branch of logic which Lord Verulam styles Doctrina 
de elenchis hermenicB ; concerning which he allirms, " Dedimus ei nornen ex 
usu, quia varus ejus usus est plane redargutio, et cautio circa usum verbo- 
rum. Quinimo f)artem illam de praedicamentis, si recte instituatur, circa 
cautiones de non confundendis aut transponendia definitionum et divisionutn 
terminis, pra;cipuum usum sortiri existiinamus, et hucetiain referri maiu- 
inus." — De Aug. ScL, 1. v., c. iv. 

t How ridiculous are the efforts which some very learned and judicious 
men have made, in order to evince tliat whatever begins to exist must have 
a cause. One argues, "There must have been a cause to determine the 
lime and place," as though it were more evident that the accidents could 
not be determined without a cause, than that the existence of the thing 
could not be so delermmed. Another insists, very curiously, that if a thing 
had no cause, it must have been the cause of itself; a third, with equal con 
sistency, that nothing must have been the cause. Thus, by always assu- 
ming the absolute yiccessity of a cause, they demonstrate the absolute necessilj 
ofacatise. ■ For a full illustration of the futility of such pretended reason- 
ings, see the Treatise of Human Nature, b. i., part hi., section 3. 1 do not 
think they have succeeded better who have attempted to assign a reason for 
the laith we have in this principle, that the futile will rese7nble the past. A 
laic author imagines that he solves the difficulty at once by saying that 
" what is now time past was once future ; and that, though no man has had 
experience of what is future, every man has had experience of what was fu 
ture." Would it, then, bo more perspicuous to state the question thus, 
"How come we to believe that ivhai is future, not what was future, will re 
semble the past ?" Of the first he says expressly, that no man has had ex 
pciience, though almost in the same breath he tells us not very consisteo* 




RiiKTORic, as was observed already, not only considers the 
subject, but also the hearers and the speaker.* The hearers 
must be considered in a twofold view, as men in general, and 
as such men in particular. 

As men in general, it must be allowed there are certain 
principles in our nature which, when properly addressed and 
managed, give no inconsiderable aid to reason in promoting 
belief. Nor is it just to conclude from this concession, as 
some have hastily done, that oratory mriy be defined " The 
art of deception.'" The use of such hel])s will be found, on 
a stricter examination, to be in most cases quite legitimate, 
and even necessary, if we would give reason herself that in- 

'y, " The answer is sufficient : have we not always found it to be so ?" an 
answer which appears lo me not more illogical than ungrammatical. But 
admitting with him that to consider time as past or future (though no dis- 
tinction can be more precise) is only puzzling the question, let us inquire 
whether a reason can be assigned for judging that the unlvnown time will 
resemble the known. Suppose our whole time divided into equal portions. 
Call these portions A, B, C, L), E, F, G. Of these the first three have been ex- 
perienced, the remaining four are not. The first three 1 found to resemble 
one another, but how must I argue with regard to the rest '( Shall I say B 
was like A, therefore D will be like C; or, if you tliink it strengthens tho 
argument, shall I say C resembled A and B, therefore D will resemble A, B 
and C '. I would gladly know what sort of reasoning, scientifical or moral 
this could be denominated, or what is the medium by which the conclusion 
is made out '. Suppose, farther, I get acquainted with D, formerly unknown, 
and find that it actually resembles A, 13, and C, how can this furnish me 
with any knowledge of E, F, and G, things totally distinct ? The resem- 
blance 1 have discovered in D to A, B, and C, can never be extended to any- 
thing that is not D, nor any part of D, namely, to E, F, and G, unless you 
assume this as the medium, that the unknown will resemble the known, 
or, which is equivalent, that the future will resemble the past. Solar is 
this principle, therefore, from being deduced from particular experiences, 
that It is fundamental to all particular deductions from experience, in which 
we could not advance a single step without it. We are often misled in ca- 
ses of this nature by a vague and popular use of words, not attending to the 
nicer difierences in their import in different situations. If one were to ask 
me, " Have you, then, no reason to believe that the future will resemble 
the past .'" I should certainly answer, " I have the greatest reason to be 
'■!eve it." And if the question had been concerning a geometrical axiom, I 
should have returned the same answer. By reason we often mean, not an 
argument or medium of proving, but a ground in human nature on which a 
■particular judgment is founded. Nay, farther, as no progress in reasoning 
'tin be made where there is no foundation (and first principles are here the 
ftrle foundation), I should readily admit, that the man who does not believe 
' ich propositions, if it were possible to find sueh a man, is perfectly irra 
■■.i'^nal. and. conseijMently, not to be argued with * Chan, iv 


fluence which is certainly her due. In order to evince llio 
truth considered by itself, conclusive arguments alone are re 
quisite ; but in order to convince me by these arguments, i) 
is moreover requisite that they be understood, that they be 
attended to, that they be remembered by me : and, in order 
to persuade me by them to any particular action or conduct, 
it is farther requisite that, by interesting me in the subject, 
they may, as it were, be felt. It is not, therefore, the under- 
standing alone that is here concerned. If the orator would 
prove successful, it is necessary that he engage in his ser- 
vice all tliese different powers of the mind, the imagination, 
tlie memory, and the passions. These are not the supplant- 
ers of reason, or even rivals in her sway ; they are lier liand- 
n)aids, bv whose ministry she is enabled to usher truth into 
the heart, and procure it there a favourable reception. As 
handmaids, they are liable to be seduced by sophistry in the 
garb of reason, and sometimes are made ignorantly to lend 
their aid in the introduction of falsehood. But their service 
is not on this account to be dispensed with; there is even a 
necessity of employing it founded in our nature. Our eyes, 
and hands, and feet will give us the same assistance in doing 
mischief as in doing good ; but it would not, therefore, be 
better for the world that all iDankind were blind and lame. 
Arms arc not to be laid aside by honest men because carried 
by assassins and ruffians; they are to be used the rather foi 
this very reason. Nor are those mental powers, of which 
eloquence so much avails herself, like the art of war or olhei 
human arts, perfectly indifferent to good and evil, and only 
beneficial as they are rightly employed. On the contrary, 
they are by nature, as will perhaps appear afterward, more 
friendly to truth than to falsehood, and more easily retained 
in the cause of virtue than in that of vice.* 

* " Notandum est enim, affectus ipsos ad bonum apparens semper ferrl 
atque hac ex parte aliquid habere cum ratione commune : verum illud inter- 
est; quod affectus intumtur pToecipue boyium in prasentia ; ratio prospiciens in 
iongum, etiam, fiiturum, tt in xumnia. Ideoque cum quae m praesentia ob'er 
6cnlur, impleanl phanlasiam fortius, succumbit pleruinque ratio et sutju 
gatiir. Sed postqnain eloquentia, et suasionum vi edectum sit, ut futuraet 
remota constituaniur et conspiciantur tanquam praesentia, turn demum tbe- 
unte in partes rationis phanlasia, ratio (it superior. Concludamus igitu , 
iiondeberi masris viiioverti Rhrtoncr, quod dcteriorem partem cohonestare 
pciat ; quain Dialectics, quod sophismata concinnare doceat. Quis cnim 
nescit, contrariorum eandem ralionem esse, licit usu opponanlur?" — T>e 

Aug. Sci., 1. vi , C. iii. Ta i-rroKeincva vpayptara ovx ^folui cxet, aW aht ra^riBtt 
Kaira iic\riu> rn ^vact, tvavWoYioTortpn Kat ■ridavidTtpa.wi av^Hi; tlrtit • * * Ej 
Ai.oTt ucyaXa pXd^luev ai^o xptificvos iVtKtai Tij Totavri) {vfofin tUv Xdyiov, Tvvrd >l 
viivov lOTi Kurd vdvTuiv Toii' dyuOuiv, irXiiv apcrrn, Kai ndXicra Kara tUv xpijaificiTil 
riar, Oiov laxvoSt iiyiciai, nAoiirou, arpaTtiyiai' toiovtoi; yap av ri; iIi0cAr}a(i( *J 
afviara, xpii>;'cvo{ jiKa((ai$, Kal liXdtf/cttv, aSiKuii. — Arist., Rhet., 1. i., C. i 

THE PHiLosopar :f rhetoeic. SiS 


MEN Considered as endowed with undeestandino. 

But to descend to particulars : the first thing to be studied 
by the speaker is, that his arguments may be understood, II 
tliey be unintelligible, the cause must be either in the sense 
or in the expression. It lies in the sense if the mediums ol 
proof be such as the hearers are unacquainted with ; that is, it 
the ideas introduced be either without the sphere of their 
knowledge, or too abstract for their apprehension and habits 
of thinking. It lies in the sense likewise, if the train of rea- 
soning (though no unusual ideas should be introduced) be 
longer, or more complex, or more intricate, than they are 
accustomed to. But as the fitness of the arguments in these 
respects depends on the capacity, education, and attainments 
of the hearers, which in different orders of men are different, 
this properly belongs to the consideration which the speaker 
ought to have of his audience, not as men in general, but as 
such men in particular. The obscurity which ariseth from 
the expression will come in course to be considered in the 



The second thing requisite is that his reasoning be attend- 
ed to; for this purpose the imagination must be engaged 
Attention is prerequisite to every effect of speaking, and 
without some gratification in hearing, there will be no atten- 
tion, at least, of any continuance. 'I'hose qualities in idea.s 
whicli principally gratify the fimcy are vivacity, beauty, sub- 
limity, novelty. Nothing contributes more to vivacity than 
striking resemblances in the imagery, which convey, besides, 
an additional pleasure of their own. 

But there is still a farther end to be served by pleasing the 
imagination than that of awakening and preserving the at- 
tention, however important this purpose alone ought to be 
accounted. I will not say with a late subtile metaphysician,* 
that " Belief consisteth in the liveliness of our ideas." That 
this doctrine is erroneous, it would be quite foreign to my 
purpose to attempt here to evince. f Thus much, however 
is indubitable, that belief commonly enlivens our ideas, and 
that lively ideas have a stronger influence than faint ideas to 
•nduce belief. But so far are these two from being coinci- 
dent, that even this connexion between them, though com- 

* The author of " A Treatise of Human Nature," in 3 vols, 
t If one is desirous to see a refutation of this principle, let hini conj.nU 
Keid's Inquiry, ch. li.. sect, v 


mon, is not necessary. Vivacity of ideas is not always ac- 
companied with faith, nor is faith always able to produce 
vivacity. The ideas raised in my mind by the CEdipus T}-- 
rannus of Sophocles, or the Lear of Shakspeare, are incom- 
parably more lively than those excited by a cold but faithful 
historiographer. Yet I may give full credit to the languid 
narrative of the latter, though I believe not a single sentence 
m those 'ragedies. If a proof were asked of the greater vi- 
vacity in the one case than in the other (which, by-the-way, 
must be finally determined by consciousness), let these ef- 
fects ser\ e for arguments. The ideas of the poet give greater 
pleasure, command closer attention, operate more strongly 
on the passions, and are longer remembered. If these be not 
sufficient evidences of greater vivacitjs I own I have no ap- 
prehension of the meaning which that author affixes to the 
term. The connexion, however, that generally subsisteth 
between vivacity and belief will appear less marvellous, if 
we reflect that there is not so great a difference between ar- 
gument and illustration as is usually imagined. The same 
ingenious writer says, concerning moral reasoning, that it is 
but a kind of comparison. The truth of this assertion any 
one will easily be convinced of who considers the preceding 
»)bservations on that subject. 

Where, then, lies the difference between addressing the 
)udgmcnt and addressing the fancy? and what hath given 
rise to the distinction between ratiocination and imagery 1 
The following observations will serve for an answer to this 
query. It is evident that, though the mind receives a con- 
siderable pleasure from the discovery of resemblance, no 
pleasure is received when the resemblance is of such a na 
ture as is familiar to everybody. Such are those resem- 
blances which result from the specific and generic qualities 
of ordinary objects. What gives the principal delight to the 
imagination is the exhibition of a strong likeness, which es- 
capes the notice of the generality of people. The similitude 
of man to man, eagle to eagle, sea to sea, or, in brief, of one 
individual to another individual of the same species, affects 
not the fancy in the least. What poet would ever think of 
comparing a combat between two of his heroes to a combat 
between other two 1 Yet nowhere else will he find so strong 
a resemblance. Indeed, to the faculty of imagination th's 
resemblance appears rather under the notion of identity al- 
though it be the foundation of the strongest reasoning from 
experience. Again, the similarity of one species to another 
of the same genus, as of the lion to the tiger, of the alder to 
the oak, thougli this, too, be a considerable fund of argu- 
nientiuion, hardly strikes the fancy more than the preceding, 
inasmuch as the generical properties, whereof every species 
narticioiites. are also obvious. But if from the exoerimentaJ 


reasoning we descend to the analogical, we may be said to 
come upon a common to which reason and fancy have an 
equal claim. "A comparison," says Quintilian,* "hath al 
most tlie effect of an example." But what are rhttorical 
comparisons, when brought to illustrate any point inculcated 
on the hearers (what are they, I say), but arguments from, 
analogy 1 In proof of this, let us borrow an instance from 
the forementioned rhetorician : " Would you be convinced of 
Che necessity of education for the mind, consider of what 
importance culture is to the ground : the field which, culti- 
vated, produceth a plentiful crop of useful fruits, if neglected, 
will be overrun with briers, tKid brambles, and other useless 
or noxious weeds."! It would he no better than trifling to 
point out the argument couched in this passage. Now if 
comparison, which is the chief, hath so great an influence 
upon conviction, it is no wonder that all those other oratori- 
cal tropes and figures addressed to the imagination, which 
are more or less nearly related to comparison, should derive 
hence both light and efficacy. | Even antithesis implies com- 
parison. Simile is a comparison in epitome,^ Metaphor is 
an allegory in miniature. Allegory and prosopeia are com- 
parisons conveyed under a particular form. 



Farther, vivid ideas are not only more powerful than lan- 
guid ideas in commanding and preserving attention, they are 
not only more efficacious in producing conviction, but they 
are also more easily retained. Those several powers, un- 
derstanding, imagination, memory, and passion, are mutually 
subservient. That it is necessary for the orator to engage 
the help of memory, will appear from many reasons, partic 
ularly from what was remarked above, on the fourth differ 
cnce between moral reasoning and demonstrative. || It was 
there observed, that in the former the credibility of the fact 
is the sum of the evidence of all the arguments, often inde- 
pendent of one another, brough* to support it. And though 
it was shown that demonstration itself, v/ithout the assistance 
of this facult}^, could never produce conviction, yet here it 

♦ Instit., lib. v., cap, xi. " Proximas exempli vires habet similitude." 

t Instit., lib. v., cap. xi. " Ut si animum dicas excolendum, similitudine 
utaris lerrse, quas neglecta sentes atque diimos, exculta fnictus creat." 

X " Praetersa, nescio qiiomodo etiani credit facilius. ouse audienti jucunda 
sunt, et voliiptate ad fiJem ducitur." — Quint., 1. iv., c. n. 

1^ Simile and ~, jnpaiison are in common language frequently confounded. 
The difference is : Simile is no more than a comparison suggested in a 
word or two ; as. He fought like a lion ; His face shone as the sun. Com- 
parison is a simile circumstantiated and included in one or more separate 
(wntences II Chap, v., sect, ii., pt. ' 


must be owned that tlie natural connexion of the severa, 
links in the chain renders the remembrance ea^er. Now 
as nothmg can operate on the mind which is not in some 
respect present to it, care must be taken by the orator that, 
in introducing new topics, the vestiges left by the former on 
the minds of the hearers may not be effaced. It is the sense 
of tliis necessity which hath given rise to the rules of com- 

Some will perhaps consider it as irregular that I speak 
here of addressing the memory, of which no mention at all 
was made in the first chapter, wherein I considered th<; dif- 
ferent forms of eloquence, classing them by the different fac 
ulties of the mind addressed. But this apparent irregularity 
will vanish when it is observed that, with regard to the fac 
ulties there mentioned, each of them may not only be the di- 
rect, but even the ultimate object of what is spoken. The 
whole scope may be at one time to inform or convince the 
understanding, at another to delight the imagination, at a 
lliird to agitate the passions, and at a fourth to determine the 
will. But it is never the ultimate end of speaking to be re- 
membered when what is spoken tends neither to instruct, to 
please, to move, nor to persuade. This, therefore, is of ne- 
cessity no more on any occasion than a subordinate end, or, 
which is precisely the same thing, the means to some farther 
end ; and as such, it is more or less necessary on every occa- 
sion. 'I'he speaker's attention to this subserviency of mem- 
ory is always so much the more requisite, the greater tiic 
difficulty of remembrance is, and the more important the be- 
ing remembered is to the attainment of the ultimate end. 
On both accounts, it is of more consequence in those dis- 
courses whose aim is either instruction or persuasion, than 
in those whose design is solely to please the fancy or to 
move the passions. And if there are any which answer none 
of those ends, it were better to learn to forget them than to 
teach the metliod of making them be retained. 

The author of the treatise above quoted liath divided the 
principles of association in ideas into resemblance, contigu- 
ity, and causation. I do not here inquire into all the defects 
of this enumeration, but only observe, that even on his own 
oystem, order both in space and time ought to have been in- 
cluded. It appears at least to have an equal title with caus- 
ation, which, according to him, is but a particular modification 
and combination of the other two. Causation, considered as 
an associating principle, is, in his theory, no more than the 
contiguous succession of two ideas, which is more deeply im- 
printed on the mind by its experience of a similar contiguity 
and succession of the impressions from which they are cop- 
ied. This, therefore, is the result of resemblance and vicin- 
ity united. Order in place is likewise a mode of vicini'-y 


where this last tie is strengthened by the regularity and sim- 
plicity of figure, which qualities arisf solely from the resem- 
blance of the corresponding parts of the figure, or the parts 
similarly situated. Regular figures, besides the advantages 
wliich they derive from simplicity and uniformity, have this 
also, that they are more familiar to the mind than irregular 
figures, and are therefore more easily conceived. Hence the 
influence which order in place hath upon the memory. It 
any person question this influence, let him but reflect how 
much easier it is to remember a considerable number of per- 
sons whom one hath seen ranged on benches or chairs round 
a hall, than the same number seen standing promiscuously in 
a crowd ; and how natural it is for assisting the memory in 
recollecting the persons, to recur to the order wherein they 
were placed. 

As to order in time, which in composition is properly styled 
Method, it consisteth principally in connecting the parts in 
such a manner as to give vicinity to things in the discourse 
which have an affinity; that is, resemblance, causality, or 
other relation in nature ; and thus making their customary 
association and resemblance, as in the former case, co-oper- 
ate with their contiguity in duration, or immediate succes- 
sion in the delivery. The utiUty of method for aiding the 
memory all the world knows. But besides this, there are 
some parts of the discourse, as well as figures of speech, pe- 
culiarly adapted to this end. Such are the division of the 
subject, the rhetorical repetitions of every kind, the diflferenl 
modes of transition and recapitulation. 



To conclude : when persuasion is the end, passion also 
must be engaged. If it is fancy which bestows brilliancy on 
our ideas, if it is memory which gives them stability, pas- 
sion doth more : it animates them. Hence they derive spirit 
and energy. To say that it is possible to persuade without 
speaking to the passions, is but, at best, a kind of specious 
nonsense. The coolest rcasoner always, in persuading, ad- 
dresseth himself to the passions some way or other. This 
he cannot avoid doing if he speak to the purpose. To make 
me believe, it is enough to show me that things are so ; to 
make me act, it is necessary to show me that the action wil. 
answer some end. That can never be an end l^i me which 
gratifies no passion or affection in my nature. You assure 
me, "It is for my honour." Now you solicit my pride, with- 
out which I had never been able to understand the word. 
You say, " It is for iny interest." Now you bespeak my 
self-love " It is for the public good." Now you rmi-e m\ 


patriotism. " It will relieve the miserable." Now you touch 
my pity. So far, therefore, is it from being an unfair method 
of persuasion to move the passions, that there is no persua 
fiion without moving them. 

But if so much depend on passion, where is the scope for 
argument? Before I answer this question.let it be observed, 
that, in order to persuade, there are two things which must 
oe carefully studied by the orator. The first is, to excite 
eo.Tie desire or passion in the hearers ; the second is, to sat- 
isfy their judgment that thorc is a connexion between the ac- 
tion to which he would persuade them, and the gratification 
of ihe desire or passion which he excites. This is the anal- 
ysis of persuasion. The former is effected by communica- 
ting lively and glowing ideas of the object ; the latter, unless 
so evident of itself as to supersede the necessity, by present- 
ing the best and most forcible arguments which the nature of 
the subject admits. In the one lies the pathetic, in the other 
the argunicntalive. These, incorporated together (as was ob- 
served in the first chapter), constitute that veliemence of con 
tention to which tlie greatest exploits of eloiiuonce ought 
doulitlcss to be ascribed. Here, then, is the principal scope 
for arguruenl, but not the only scope, as will appear in the 
sequel. When the first end alone is attained, tlie pathetic 
without the rational, the passions are indeed roused from a 
disagreeable langour by the help of the imagination, and the 
mind is thrown into a state which, though accompanied with 
some painful emotions, rarely fails, upon the whole, to affect 
it with pleasure. But if the hearers are judicious, no practi- 
cal effect is produced. They cannot, by such declamation, 
be influenced to a particular action, because not convinced 
that that action will conduce to the gratifying of the passion 
raised. Your eloquence hath fired my ambition, and makes 
me burn with public zeal. The consequence is, there is no- 
tiiing which at present I would not attempt for the sake of 
fame, and the interest of my country. You advise ine to 
such a conduct, but you have not shown me how that can 
contribute to gratify either passion. Satisfy me in this, and 
\ am instantly at your command. Indeed, when the hearers 
are rude and ignorant, nolliiug more is necessary in the speak 
er than to inflame their passions. They will not require thai 
the coimexion between the conduct he urges and the end pro 
posed be evinced to them. His word will satisfy. And there 
fore bold aflirmaiions are made to supply the place of rea- 
sons. Hence it is that the rabble arc ever the prey of quacks 
and impudent pretenders of every denomination. 

On the contrary, when the other end alone is attained, the 
rational without the pathetic, the speaker is as far from his 
purpose as before. You have proved beyond contradiction 
*'iat acting thus is the sure way to orocure such an object 


1 perceive chat your reasoning is conclusive, but I am not af- 
fected by it. Wiiy ? I have no passion for the object. 1 
am indiflerent whether 1 procure it or not. You have de- 
monstrated that such a step will mortify my enemy. I be- 
lieve it ; but I have no resentment, and v/ill not trouble my. 
self to give pain to another. Your arguments evince that it 
would gratify my vanity. But I prefer my ease. Thus pas- 
sion is the mover to action, reason is the guide. Good is the 
object of the will, trutii is the object of the understanding.* 

* Several causes have contributed to involve this subject in confusion. 
One is the ambiguity and imperfection of language. Motives are often 
railed arguments, and both motives and arguments are promiscuously sty 
,ed reasons. Another is. the idle disputes that have arisen among philoso- 
phers concerning the nature of good, both physical and moral. '-Truth 
and good are one," says the author of the Pleasures of Imagination, an au- 
thor whose poetical merit will not be questioned by persons of taste. The 
expression might have been passed in the poet, whose right to the use of 
caiachresis, one of the many privileges comprehended under the name poetic 
ticensr, prescription hath fully established. But by philosophizing on this 
passage in his notes, he warrants us to canvass his reasoning, for no such 
privilege hath as yet been conceded to philosophers. Indeed, in attempting 
to illustrate, he has, 1 think, confuted it, or, to speak more properly, shown 
it to have no meaning. He mentions two opinions concerning the connex- 
ion of truth and beauty, which is one species of good. " Some philoso- 
phers," says he, "assert an indep-endent and invariable law in Nature, in 
consequence of which all rational btini^s must alike perceive beauty in some 
certain proportions, and deformity in the coiitrari/." Now, though 1 do not 
conceive what is meant either by indepoidrnt laiv or by contrary proportions, 
this, if it proves anything, proves as clearly that defjrmity and truth are 
one, as that beauty and truth are one ; for those contrary proportions are 
surely as much proportions, or, if you will, as true proportions, as somi cer- 
tain proportions are. Accordingly, if, in the conclusion deduced you put 
the word deformity instead of beauty, and the woid beauty instead of defor- 
mity, 1\\g sense will be equally complete. "Others," he adds, •' there are, 
who believe beauty to be merely a relative and arbitrary thing ; 2.nd that it 
is not impossible, in a physical sense, that two beintrs of equal capacities 
for truth should perceive, one of them beauty, and the other deformity, in 
the same relations. And upon this supposition, by that truth which is al 
ways connected with beauty, nothing more can be meant than the conform- 
ity of any object to those proportions, upon which, after careful examina 
tion, the beauty of that species is found to depend." Thij opinion, if 1 am 
able to comprehend it, dilfers only in one point from the preceding, it sup 
poses the standard or law of beauty not invariable and universal. It is lia- 
ble to the same objection, and that rather more glaringly ; for if the same 
relations must be always equally true relations, deformity is as really one 
with truth as beauty is, since the very same relations can exhibit both ap 
pearancoi. In shor', no hypothesis hitherto invented hath shown that by 
means of the discursive faculty, without the aid of any other mental power, 
we could ever obtain a notioti of either the beautiful or the good ; and till 
this be shown, nothing is shown to the purpose. The author aforesaid, fai 
from attempting this, proceeds on the supposition that we first perceive 
beauty, he says not how, and then, having by a careful examination dis- 
covered the proportions which gave ri.'^e to the perception, denominate them 
Irus ; 80 that all those elaborate disquisitions with «hich we are amused 
amount only to a few msigniticant identical propositions very improperly 
expressed. For out of a vast profusion of learned phrases, this is all the 
»nformatir:i we can uick, that " Beauty is — truly beautv," and tha' '-Goo^ 



It may be thought that when the motive is the equity, tha 
generosity, or the intrinsic merit of the action recommended, 
argument may be employed to evince the reasonableness of 
the end, as well as the fitness of the means. But this way 
of speaking suits better the popular dialect than the philo- 
sophical. The term reasonableness, when used in this man- 
ner, means nothing but the goodness, the amiableness, or 
moral excellence. If, therefore, the hearer hath no love of 
justice, no benevolence, no regard to right, although he were 
endowed with the perspicacity of a cherub, your harangue 
could never have any influence on his mind. The reason is, 
when you speak of the fitness of the means, you address 
yourself only to the liead ; when you speak of the goodness 
of the end, you address yourself to the heart, of which we 
supposed him destitute. Are we, then, to class the virtues 
among the passions ? By no means. But without entering 
into a discussion of the difiVrencc, which would be foreign to 
our purpose, let it suflice to observe, that they have this in 
common with passion. They necessarily imply an habitual 
propensity to a certain species of conduct, an habitual aver- 
sion to the contrary; a veneration for such a character, an 
abhorrence of such another. They are, therefore, though 

is — truly good." " Moral good," says a celebrated writer, " consisteth in 
fitiiKus." From this account, any person would at first really conclude that 
morals, according to him, are not concerned in the ends which we pursue, 
but solely in the choice of means for atiaiiiing our ends; that if this choice 
be judicious, the conduct is moral ; if injudicious, the contrary. But this 
truly pious author is far from admitting such an interpretation of his words 
Fitness, in his sense, hath no relation to a farther entl. It is an absolute 
fitness, a fitness in itself. We are obliged to ask, What, then, is that fit- 
ness which you call absolute ? For the application of the word in every other 
case invariably implying the proper direction of means to an end, far from 
art'ording light to the meaning it has here, lends directly to mislead us. 
The only answer, as far as 1 can learn, that haih ever been given to this 
question, is neither more nor less than this, "That alone is absolutely fit 
which is morally good ;" so that in saying moral good consisteth in fitness, 
HO more is meant than that it consisteth in moral good. Another moralist 
appears who hath made a most wonderful discovery. It is, that there is 
not a vice in the world but lying, and that acting virtuously in any situa- 
tion is but one way or other of telling truth. When this curious theory 
comes to be explained, we find the practical lie results solely from acting 
contrary to what those moral sentiments dictate, which, instead of dcdu- 
ing, he everywhere presupposeth to be known and acknowledged by ns. 
Thus lie reasons perpetually in a circle, and without advancing a single 
step beyond it, makes the same Ihip.fjs both causes and effects reciprocally. 
Conduct a[)pear8 to be false for no other reason but because it is immoral, 
and immoral for no other reason but because it is false. Such philosophy 
would not have been unworthy those profound ontologists who have blessed 
the world with the discovery that "One being is but o>u being," that "A 
being ij truly a being,'' and that " Every being has all the properties that it 
lias," and who, to the unspeakable increase of useful knowledge, have de- 
iiominaied these the general attributes of being, and distinguished them bv 
the titles unity, truth, and goodness This, if it be anything, is the 'ery sub 
iinate of science. 


not passions, so closely related to them, that they are prop- 
erly considered as motives to action, being equally capable 
of giving an impulse to the will. The difference is akin to 
Ihat, if not the same, which rhetoricians observe between 
pathos and ethos, passion and disposition.* Accordingly, what 
is addressed solely to the moral powers of the mind, is not 
so properly denominated the pathetic as the sentimental. The 
lerni; I own, is rather modern, but is nevertheless convenient.. 
as it fills a vacant room, and doth not, like most of our new- 
fangled words, justle out older and vvortheir occupants, to the 
no small detriment of the language. It occupies, so to speak, 
the middle place between the pathetic and that which is ad- 
dressed to the imagination, and partakes of both, adding to 
the warmth of the former the grace and attractions of the 

Now the principal questions on this subject are these two : 
How is a passion or disposition that is favourable to the de- 
sign of the orator to be excited in the hearers \ How is an 
unfavourable passion or disposition to be calmed ? As to the 
first, it was said already in general, that passion must be 
awakened by communicating lively ideas of the object. The 
reason will be obvious from the following remarks : A pas- 
sion is most strongly excited by sensation. The sight of 
danger, immediate or near, instantly rouseih fear; the feel- 
ing of an ii^jury, and the presence of the injurer, in a moment 
kindle anger. Next to the influence of sense is that of mem- 
ory, the eflect of which upon passion, if the fact be recent, 
and remembered distinctly and circumstantially, is almost 
equal. Next to the influence of memory is that of imagina- 
tion, by which is here solely meant the faculty of apprehend- 
ing what is neither perceived by the senses nor remembered. 
Now, as it is this power of which the orator must chiefly 
avail himself, it is proper to inquire what these circumstances 
are wiiich will make the ideas he summons up in the imagi- 
nations of his hearers resemble, in lustre and steadiness, 
those of sensation and remembrance ; for the same circum- 
stances will infallibly make them resemble also in their ef- 
fects ; that is, in the influence they will have upon the pas- 
Fions and affections of the heart. 



These are peihaps all reducible to the seven following: 

* This seems to lir;ve been the sense which Quintilian had of the differ- 
Rtice between raQoi and nOoi, when he Lave aimr for an example of thft 
*rst, and charit(iso\ ile second. The word riO'li is also sometimes used fo» 
TQOiaJ «entimeni — Ti,m . i. vi., c. ii 


probubility, plausibility, importance, proximity of time, con- 
nexion of place, relation of the actors or sufferers to the hear 
ers or speaker, interest of the hearers or speaker in the con* 

Part I. Probalility. 

The first is probahility, which is now considered only as an 
expedient for enlivening passion. Here again there is com- 
monly scope for argument.! Probability results from evi- 
donco, and begets belief. Belief invigorates our ideas. Be- 
lief raised to the highest becomes certainty. Certainty flows 
either from the force of the evidence, real or apparent, that 
is produced ; or without any evidence produced by the speak- 
er, from the previous notoriety of the fact. If the fact be 
notorious, it will not only be superfluous in the speaker to at- 
tempt to prove it, but it will be pernicious to his design. 
The reason is plain. By proving, he supposeth it question- 
able, and by supposing, actually renders it so to his audience : 
he brings them from viewing it in the stronger light of cer- 
tainty, to view it in the weaker light of probability: in lieu 
of sunshine he gives them twilight. Of the different means 
and kinds of probation 1 have spoken already. 

Part II. Plausibility. 

The second circumstance is plausibility, a thing totally dis- 
tinct from the former, as having an effect upon the mind quite 
independent of faith or probabihty. It ariseth chiefly from 
the consistency of the narration, from its being what is com 
monly called natural and feasible. This the French crit 
ics have aptly enougli denominated in their language vrai 
semblance, the English critics more improperly in theirs prob 
ability. In order to avoid the manifest ambiguity there is ii, 
this application of the word, it had been better to retain the 
word verisimilitude, now almost obsolete. That there is a re- 
lation between those two qualities must, notwithstanding, be 
admitted. This, however, is an additional reason for assign- 
ing them different names. An homonymous term, whose 
differing signirtcations have no affinity to one another, is very 
seldom liable to be misunderstood. 

* I am not quite positive as to the accuracy of this eriumcratiun, and shall 
therefore freely permit my learned and ingenious friend, Dr Ucid, to annex 
the et cictera he proposes in such cases, in order to supply all defects. See 
Sketches of the History of Man. h. iii., sk. i., Appendi.x, c. ii., sect. li. 

t In the judiciary orations of the ancients, this was the principal scope 
for argument. Thai to condemn the guilty and acquit the innocent wcjid 
gratify their indignation against the injurious, and their love of right wa» 
too manifest to require a proof. The fact that there was guilt in the pris- 
oiio/, or that there was innocence, dui require it. It was otherwise in de orations, as the conduct recommended was more remotely cod 
nected with the emotions raised. 


But as to the nature and extent of this relation, lei it bft 
observed, that the want of plausibility implies an internal im- 
probability, which it will require the stronger external evi- 
dence to surmount. Nevertheless, the implausibility may be 
surmounted by such evidence, and we may be fully ascer- 
tained of what is in itself exceedingly implausible. Implau- 
sibility is, in a certain degree, positive evidence against a 
narrative, whereas plausibility implies no positive evidence 
for it. We know that fiction may be as plausible as truth. 
A narration may be possessed of this quality in the highest 
degree, which we not only regard as improbable, but know 
to be false. Probability is a light darted on the object from 
the proofs, which for this reason are pertinently enough styled 
evidence. Plausibility is a native lustre issuing directly from 
the object. The former is the aim of the historian, the latter 
of the poet. That every one may be satisfied that the sec 
ond is generally not inferior to the first in its influence on the 
mind, we need but appeal to tlie eflfects of tragedy, of epic, 
and even of romance, which, in its principal characters, par 
ticipates of the nature of poesy, though written in prose. 

It deserves, however, to be remarked, that though plausi- 
bility alone hath often greater efficacy in rousing the passions 
than probability or even certainly, yet in any species of com- 
position wherein truth, or at least probability, is expected, 
the mind quickly nauseates the most plausible tale which is 
unsupported by proper arguments. For this reason, it is the 
business of the orator, as much as his subject will permit, to 
avail himself of both qualities. There is one case, and but 
one, in which plausibility itself may be dispensed with ; that 
is, when the fact is so incontestable that it is impossible to 
entertain a doubt of it; for when implausibility is incapable 
of impairing belief, it hath sometimes, especially in forensic 
causes, even a good effect. By presenting us with something 
monstrous in its kind, it raises astonishment, and thereby 
heightens every passion which the narrative is fitted to excite. 

But to return to the explication of this quality. When I 
explained the nature of experience, I showed that it consist- 
eth of all the general truths collected from particular facts 
remembered ; the mind forming to itself often insensibly, and, 
as it were, mechanically, certain maxims, from comparing, 
or, rather, associating the similar circumstances of different 
incidents.* Hence it is that when a number of ideas relating 
to any fact or event are successfully introduced into my mind 
by a speaker, if the train he deduceth coincide with tlie gen- 
eral current of my experience, if in nothing it thwart those 
conclusions and anticipations which are become habitual to 
inc, my mind accompanies him with facility glides along 

* Chap. T-, sect, ii., part ii. 


from one idea to another, and admits tlie wholo with pleas- 
ure. If, on the contrary, the train he introduceth run coun- 
ter to the current of my experience, if in many things it 
shock those conclusions and anticipations which are become 
habitual to me, my mind attends him with difficulty, suffers 
a sort of violence in passing from one idea to another, and 
rejects the whole with disdain : 

" For while upon sucli monstrous scenes we gaze. 
They shock our faith, our indignation raise."t — Fkancis. 

In the former case I pronounce the narrative natural and 
credible; in the latter I say it is unnatural and incredible, if 
not impossible; and which is particularly expressive of the 
different appearances in respect of connexion made by the 
ideas in my mind, the one tale I call coherent, the other inco- 
herent. When, therefore, the orator can obuiin no direct aid 
from the memory of his hearers, which is rarely to be obtain- 
ed, he must, for the sake of luighleiiiiig, and strengthening, 
and, if I may be permitted to use so bold a metaphor, cement- 
ing his ideas, bespeak the assistance of experience. This, if 
properly employed, will prove a potent ally, by adding the 
grace of verisimilitude to the whole. It is, theivfore, first of 
all requisite that the circumstances of the n;iiralion, and the 
order in which they exhibited, be what is commonly call- 
ed natural, that is, congruous to general experience. 

Where passion is the end, it is not a sufficient reason for 
introducing any circumstance that it is natural, it must also 
be pertinent. It is pertinent when either necessary for giv- 
ing a distinct and consistent apprehension of the object, al 
least for obviating some objection that may be started, or 
doubt that may be entertained concerning it, or when such as 
in Its particular tendency promotes the general aim. All cir- 
cumstances, however plausible, which serve merely for dec- 
oration, never fail to divert tiie attention, and so become prej- 
uiicial to llie proposed inlhience on passion. 

But I am aware that, from the explication I have given of 
this quality, it will be said that I have run into the error, if it 
be an error, wiiich I intended to avoid, and have confounded 
it with probability, by deriving it solely from the same origin, 
experience. In answer to this, let it be observed, that in 
every plausible tale which is unsupported by external evi- 
dence, there will be found throughout the whole, when duly 
canvassed, a mixture of possibilities and probabilities, and 
that not in such a manner as to make one part or incident 
probable, another barely possible, but so blended as equally 
to affect the whole, and every member. Take the Iliad for 
an example: 'I'hat a haughty, choleric, and vindictive hero, 
Pitch as Achilles is represented to have been, should, upon 

► " CiioilcvinqiK! ostendis inihi sic, incrediilsu odi." — Uor., De Arte } o»l 


ihe public affront and injury he received from Agamemnon, 
treiit tha', general with indignity, and form a resolution of 
witlidrawing his troops, remaining thenceforth an unconcern- 
ed spectator of the calamities of his countrymen, our experi- 
ence of the baleful influences of pride and anger renders in 
some degree probable : again, that one of such a character 
as Agamemnon, rapacious, jealous of his pre-eminence as 
commander-in-chief, who envied the superior merit of Achil- 
les, and harboured resentment against him — that such a one, 
I say, on such an occurrence as is related by the poet, should 
have given the provocation, will be acknowledged also to 
have some probability. But that there were such person- 
ages, of such characters, in such circumstances, is merely 
possible. Here there is a total want of evidence. Experi 
ence is silent. Properly, indeed, the case comes not within 
the verge of its jurisdiction. Its general conclusions may 
serve in confutation, but can never serve in proof of particu- 
lar or historical facts. Sufficient testimony, and that only, 
will answer here. The testimony of the poet in this case 
goes for nothing. His object, we know, is not truth, but like- 
lihood. Experience, however, advances nothing against those 
allegations of the poet, therefore we call them possible ; it 
can say nothing for them, therefore we do not call them 
probable. The whole, at most, amounts to this : If such 
causes existed, such effects probably followed. But we have 
no evidence of the existence of the causes, therefore we have 
no evidence of the existence of the effects. Consequently, all 
the probability implied in this quality is a hypothetical prob- 
ability, which is, in effect, none at all. It is an axiom among 
dialecticians in relation to the syllogistic art, that the conclu- 
sion always follows the weaker of the premises. To apply 
this to the present purpose, an application not illicit, though 
(Muisual : if one of the premises, suppose the major, contain 
an affirmation that is barely possible, the minor one that is 
probable, possibility only can be deduced in the conclusion. 

These two qualities, therefore. Probability and Plausi- 
Bir iTY (if I may be indulged a little in the allegoric style), I 
shall call Sister-graces, daughters of the same father, Expe- 
rirnce, who is the progeny of Memory, the first-born and heir 
of Sense. 'I'hese daughters Experience had by different moth- 
er-!. 'I'he elder is the offspring of Reason, the younger is the 
child of Fancy. The elder, regular in her features, and ma- 
jestic both in shape and mien, is admiraby fitted for com- 
manding esteem, and even a religious veneration ; the young- 
er, careless, blooming, sprightly, is entirely formed fo.' cap- 
tivating the heart and engaging love. The conversation o/ 
each is entertaining and instructive, but in different ways. 
Sages seem .o think that there is more instruction to be got- 
ten from the just observation* of the elder : almost all are 


agreed that there is more entertainment in the livelj sallies 
of the younger. The principal companion and favourite of 
the first is Truth, but whether Truth or Fiction share most in 
the favour of the second, it were often difficult to say. Both 
are naturally well disposed, and even friendly to Virtue, but 
the elder is by much the more steady of the two ; the young- 
er, though perliaps not less capable of doing good, is more 
basily corrupted, and hath sometimes basely turned procu- 
ress to Vice. Though rivals, they have a sisterly affection to 
eacli other, and love to be together. The elder, sensible that 
there are but a few who can for any time relish her society 
alone, is generally anxious that her sister be of the party ; the 
younger, conscious of her own superior talents in this re- 
spect, can more easily dispense with tlie other's company. 
Nevertheless, when she is discoursing on great and serious 
subjects, in order to add weight to her words, she often quotes 
her sister's testimony, whicli she knows is better credited 
tlian her own, a compliment that is but sparingly returned by 
the elder. Each sister hath her admirers. Those of the 
younger are more numerous, those of the elder more con- 
stant. In the retinue of the former, you will find the young, 
the gay, the dissipated ; but these are not her only attendants. 
The middle-aged, however, and the thoughtful, more com- 
monly attach themselves to tlie latter. To conclude : as 
something may be learned of characters from tlie invectives 
of enemies as well as from the encomiums of friends, those 
who have not judgment to discern the good qualities of the 
first-born accuse her of dulness, pedantry, and stiffness : 
those who have not taste to relish the charms of the second, 
charge her with folly, levity, and falseness. Meantime, it 
appears to be the universal opinion of the impartial, and such 
as have been best acquainted with both, that though the at- 
tractives of the younger be more irresistible at sight, the vir 
lues of the elder will be longer remembered. 

So much for the two qualities probability and plausibility, oc 
which I have expatiated the more, as they are the principal, 
and, in some respect, indispensable. The others are not 
compatible with every subject ; but as they are of real mo- 
ment, it is necessary to attend to them, that so they may not 
be overlooked in cases wherein the subject requires that thev 
be urged. 

Part III. Import anct. 
The third circumstance I took notice of was importance, 
the appearance of which always tends, by fixing attention 
more closely, to add brightness and strength to the ideas. 
The importance in moral subjects is analogous to the quan- 
tity of matter in physical subjects, as on quantity the mo- 
ment of moving bodies in a grer.t measure depends. An ac 


lion may derive importance from its own nature, fiom those 
roncerned in it as acting or suffering, or from its consequen- 
ces. It derives importance from its own nature if it be stu- 
pendous in its kind, if the result of what is uncommonly 
great, whether good or bad, passion or invention, virtue or 
vice, or what in respect of generosity is godlike, what in 
respect of atrocity is diabolical ; it derives importance from 
those concerned in it when the actors or the sufferers are 
considerable, on account either of their dignity or of their 
number, or of both ; it derives importance frojn its conse- 
quences when these are remarkable in regard to their great- 
ness, their multitude, their extent, and that either as to the 
many and distant places affected by them, or as to the future 
and remote periods to which they may reach, or as to both. 
All the four remaining circumstances derive their efficacy 
purely from one and the; same cause, the connexion of the 
subject with those occupied, as speakers or hearers, in the 
discourse. Self is the centre here, which hath a similar 
power in the ideal world to that of the sun in the materia] 
world, in communicating both light and heat to whatever is 
within the sphere of its activity, and in a greater or less de- 
cree, according to the nearness or remoteness. 

Part IV. Proximity of Time. 
First, as to proximity of lime, every one knows that any 
melancholy incident is the more affecting that it is recent. 
Hence it is become common with story-teflers, that they may 
make a deeper impression on tlieir hearers, to introduce re- 
marks like these : that the tale which they relate is not old 
that it happened but latelj', or in their own time, or that they 
are yet living who had a part in it or were witnesses of it. 
Proximity of time regards not only the past, but the future. 
An event that will probably soon happen hath greater influ- 
ence upon us than what will probably happen a long time 
hence. I have hitherto proceeded on the hypothesis that the 
orator rouses the passions of his hearers by exhibiting some 
past transaction ; but we must acknowledge that passion may 
be as strongly excited by his reasonings concerning an event 
yet to come. In the judiciary orations there is greater scope 
for the former, in the deliberative for the latter, though in 
each kind there may occasionally be scope for both. All the 
seven circumstances enumerated are applicable, and have 
ccjual weight, whether they relate to the future or to the 
past. The only exception that I know of is, that probability 
and plausibility are scarcely distinguishable, when used in 
reference to events in futurity. As in these there is no ac- 
ce jS for testimony, what constitutes the principal distinction 
is quite excluded. In comparing tie influence of the past 
UDon our minds with that of the future, it appears, in general. 


that if the evidence, tlie importance, and the distance of the 
objecls be equal, the latter will be greater than the former 
The reason, i imagine, is, wo are conscious, that as every 
moment, the future, which seems placed before us, is ap 
proaching, and the past, which lies, as it were, behind, is re- 
tiring, our nearness or relation to the one constantly increas- 
eth as the other decreaseth. There is something like attrac- 
tion in the first case, and repulsion in the second. This tends 
to interest us more in the future than in the past, and conse- 
quently to the present view aggrandizes the one and dimin- 
ishes the other. 

What, nevertheless, gives the past a very considerable ad- 
vantage, is its being generally susceptible of much stronger 
evidence than the future. The lights of the mind are, if I 
may so express myself, in an opposite situation to the lights 
of the body. These discover clearly the prospect lying 
before us, but not the ground we have already passed. By 
the memory, on the contrary, that great luminary of the mind, 
things past ure exhibited in retrospect: we have no corre- 
spondent faculty to irradiate the future; and even in matters 
which fall not within the reach of our memory, past events 
are often clearly discoverable by testimony, and by effects at 
present existing, whereas we have nothing equivalent to 
found our arguuK'nis upon in reasoning about things to come. 
[t is for this reason that the future is considered as the prov 
uice of conjecture and uncertainty. 

Part V. Connexion of Place. 
Local connexion, the fifth in the above enumeration, hath a 
uiore powerful effect tiian proximity of time. Duration and 
space are two things (call them entities, or attributes, or whal 
^'ou please), in some respects tiie mosr like, and in some re- 
spects the unlike to one another. They resemble in 
continuity, divisibility, infinity, in their being deemed essen- 
tial to the existence of other things, and in the doubts that 
have been raised as to their having a real or independent ex- 
istence of their own. They differ in tliat the latter is per- 
manent, whereas the very essence of the former consisteth 
in transitoriness ; the parts of the one are all successive, of 
the other all coexistent. The greater portions of time ais 
all distinguished by the memorable things which have been 
transacted in them, the smaller portions by the revolutions 
of the heavenly bodies ; the portions of place, great and small 
(for we do not here consider the regions of the fixed stars 
and planets), are distinguished by the various tracts of land 
and water into which the earth is divided and subdivided ; 
the one distinction intelligible, the other sensible: the one 
chiefly known to the inquisitive, the other, in a trreat meas 
jre, tfhvious to ail. 


Ilencc perhaps it arises that tlio latter is considered as a 
firmer ground of relation than the former. Who is not more 
curious to know the notable transactions which have happen 
ed in his own country from the earliest antiquity, than to be 
acquainted with those which have happened in the remotest 
regions of the globe, during the century wherein he lives' 
It must be owned, however, that the former circumstance is 
more frequently aided by that of personal relation than the 
latter (Connexion of place not only includes vicinage, but 
every other local relation, such as being in a province under 
the same government with us, in a state that is in alliance 
with us, in a country well known to us, and the like. Of the 
inrtuenc(! of this conuexion in operating on our passions, we 
have daily proofs. With how much indifference, at least 
with how slight and transient emotion, do we read in news- 
papers the accounts of the most deplorable accidents in 
icuutries distant and unknown 1 How much, on the con- 
trary, are we alarmed and agitated on being informed lYmt 
any such accident hath happened in our neighbourhood, and 
that even though we be totally unacquainted with the per- 
sons concerned ! 

Part V'I. Relation to the Persons concerneJ . 
Still greater is the power of relation to the persons con- 
cerned, which was the sixth circumstance mentioned, as this 
tie is more direct than that which attacheth us to the scene 
of action. It is the persons, nut the place, that are the im- 
mediate objects of tlie passions love or hatred, pity or anger, 
envy or contempt. Relation to the actors commonly produ- 
ces an effect contrary to that produced by relation to tht 
sufferers, the first in extenuation, the second in aggravation 
of the crime alleged. The first makes for the apologist, the 
second for the accuser. This, I say, is commonly the case, 
not always. A remote relation to the actors, when the of- 
fence is heinous, especially if the sufferers be more nearly 
related, will sometimes rattier aggravate than extenuate the 
!ruilt in our estimation. But it is impossible, with any precis- 
ion, to reduce these effects to rules, so much depending on 
tiie different tempers and sentiments of different audiences. 
Personal relations are of various kinds. Some have gener- 
ally greater influence than others ; some, again, have greatei 
inlluence with one person, others with another. They are 
consangtiinity, affinity, friendship, acquaintance, being fellow- 
c'tizens, countrymen, of the same surname, language, reli 
gion, occupation, and innumerable others. 

P.1RT VII. Int'rest in the Consequtnces. 
Hut i)f all the oonnexi.e circumstances, the most poweifii^ 
IS mtercit, which is the last. Of all relations, personal rela- 
tion, hv brirtrir.ff the object verv near most enlivens that svnv 


pathy which attacheth us to the concerns of others ; interesi 
in the effects brings the object, if I may say so, into contact 
with us, and makes the mind cUng to it as a concern of its 
own. Sympathy is but a reflected feeling, and therefore, in 
ordinary cases, must be weaker than the original. Though 
the mirror be ever so true, a lover will not Ite obliged to it 
for presenting him with the figure of his mistress when he 
h;ith an opportunity of gazing on her person ; nor will the 
orator place his cliief confidence in the assistance of the so 
cial and sympathetic affections, when he hath it in his powcJ 
to arm the selfish. 

Men universally, from a just conception of the difference, 
'ave, when self is concerned, given a diflerenl name to wha* 
eems originally the same passion in a higher degree. Inju 
ry, to whomsoever oflVred, is to every m;in that observes it. 
<itid whose sense of right is not debauched by vicious prac- 
tice, the natural object of indi^nalmu. Indignation always 
implies resentment, or a desire of retaliating on the injurious 
person, so far, at least, as to make him repent the wrong he 
iiatli committed. This indignation in the person injured is, 
from our knowledge of mankind, supposed to be, not, indeed, 
universally, but generally, so much stronger, that it ought to bo 
distinguished by another appellation, and is accordingly de- 
nominated revenge. In like manner, beneficence, on whom- 
soever exercised, is the natural object of our /ore.- love always 
implies benevolence, or a desire of promoting the happiness ol 
the beneficent person ; but this pas.sion in the person benefited 
IS conceived to be so much gre;itor, and to infer so strong an 
obligation to a return of good offices to his benefactor, that it 
merits to be distinguished by the title gratitude. Now, by 
this circumstance o( interest in the effects, the speaker, from 
( niragiiig piti/ in his favour, can proceed to operate on a more 
pov erful principle, self-preservation. Tiie benevolence of his 
liearei:? he can work up into gratitude, their indignation into 

The two last-mentioned circumeiances, personal relation 
and interest, are not without influence, »s was hinted in the 
enumeration, though they regard the speaker G:?ly, and not 
the hearers. The reasoa is, a person present with u9;whom 
we see and hear, and who, by words, and looks, and gestures, 
gives the liveliest signs of his feelings, has the surest and immediate claim upon our sympathy. ^Ve become in- 
fected with his passions. We are hurried along by them, and 
not allowed leisure to distinguish between his relation and our 
relation, his interest and our interest. 



Ko much for those circumstances in the object presented 


by the speaKer which seiTe to awaken and inflame the pas- 
sions of the hearers.* But when a passion is once raised 

* To illustrate most of the preceiling circumstances, and show the m.tu 
ner of applying thejn, 1 shall lake an example from Cicero's last oration 
against Verres, where, alter relating the crucifixion of Gavius, a Roman 
citizen, he exclaims, 1. " O noinen liuice liheria;is ! 6 jus eximium nostras 
civitatis ! o lex l-'orcia legesque Seinproni.-E ! 6 graviter desitlerata et ali- 
quando reddita plebi Komanae tribunitia potestas. 2. Huccine tandem om- 
nia reciderunt, ut civis liomanus in provincia popnli Komani, in oppido 
f-hderaloruin, ab eo qui benelicio populi Romani fasceis et secureis, haberet, 
lifiligatus in foro virgis caederetur .'" — "3. Sed quid ego plura de Gavio? 
quasi tu Gavio tum lueris infestus, ac non nomini, gencri, juri civium hos- 
tis, noil illi iiiquain homiiii. sed causae communi libertatis iiiimicus fuisti. 
4. (iuid eiiim attinuit, cum Maniertini more atque instituto suo, crucein 
lixissent post urbein, in via Pompeia ; te jubere in ea parte ligerc, quas ad 
Irfluin spectat ; et hoc addere, quod negare nullo inodo potes, quod omni- 
bus audieiilibus dixisli [lalam, te idcirco ilium locum deligere, ut elle qui se 
civem Roinanum esse diccrct, ex cruce Italiam cerncre. ac domum suain 
prospicere posset' 5. Ilaque ilia crux sola, judices, post conditam Mi's- 
sanam, illoin loco fixa est. 0. lialis conspectus ad cam r^m ab isio dclci.- 
tus est, ut lUe in dolore cruciatuque morions, peraiigusto froto divisa servi- 
tutis ac libertatis jura cognoscerei : Italia autem alumnuinsaum,serviiutis 
extremo summoque supplicio all'eclum viderel. 7. Facinus est vmcire 
civem Roinanum, scelus verberare. projjc parricidium necarc, quid dicani, 
in crucem tollere ! verbo satis digiio tain nelaria res appellari nullo inodo 
potest 8. Non fuit his omnibus iste contenlus : y,,ecipt, mquit, palriam, 
in coiispectu legum libertatisijue moriaiur. t). Non tn hoc loco Gavium, 
non unain homiiiem, nescio quem, civein Roinanum, sed ciiinmunem liber- 
tatis et civitatis causam in ilium cruciatum et crucem egisti. 10. Jam vero 
vidfte hominis audaciam ; Noniie enim gravjtcr tulisse arbitramini, quod 
illam civibus Romams crucem non posset in foro, non in comitio, non in 
rosins deligere. II. Qno.l enem his locis in provincia sua celcbritate si- 
millimum, regione proximum potuit, elegit. 12. .Monumentum sceleria — 
audaciLh'que suae voluit esse in cons[>ectu Italia;, praetervictione omnium qui 
•iliro citroque n.ivigarcnl." — " lU. Paulo ante, judices, lacrymas in mortfl 
inisera aique indigmssiina navarchorum non leiicbamus : et recti; ac mcriUi 
s.'ciorum innoceiilnim miscria cummovebamur. It. Quid nunc in iiostrt 
sanguine tandem facere debemus ! nam civmm Romanorum sanguis con 
junctus exisiimandiis est." — '• 15. Oinnes hoc lococives Romani, et qui ail- 
5unt et qui ubicunque sunt, vestram severitatem desulerant, vestram (idem 
iinplorant, vesirum auxilium rcquirunt. IG. Omnia sua. jura, commoda, 
aiixilia, toiain dciuque liberlalem in vostris sententiis versari arbitraiitiir." 
1 shall [xMiii out the pathetic circumstances exemplified in this passage, ob 
serving the order wherein ihey were enumerated. 1 have numbered the 
.'jnlences iii the quotation to prevent repetition in referring to them. It must 
be remarked, fjrs^t of all, that in judiciary orations, such as this, the propet 
place for plausibilily is the narration; for probability, Ihe confirmaiion oi 
proof: the other live, though generally admissible into either of those |il,i- 
Cf s, shine princuially in the peroration. I shall show how the orator halli 
availed himsell' ot these in the passage now cited. First, imporiance ; and 
I lit liist ill respect of ihn encrn^ly of the action. No. 7 ; of tiie tiisposition 
of ihi: actor. No. 3, 9. 10 ; ai d to render probable what might othcrwisa 
?ppe;.r merely conjectural, > i. 4, 5, 8, 11, 12 ; m resjject of consefpiences, 
: r ir greatness, .No. I, 2 ; wnere the crime is most artfully, though impli 
uiily, represented as subversive of all that was dear to them, liberty, the right 
of citizens, their most valuable laws, ami that idol of the people, the tribu 
ilitian power; their extent. No. 15, 16. Secondly, proximity of time ther« 
is but an insinuation of this circumstance in the word landrm, No. 2 '^here 
are two reasons which probably induced the oiator in this particui ■» bf 
K -2 


there are also other means by which it may be kept alive, and 
even augmented. Other passions or dispositions may be 
culled in as auxiliaries. Nothing is more eflicacions in this 
respect than a sense of justice, a sense of public utility, a 
sense of glory ; and nothing conduceth more to operate on 
these than the sentiments of sages whose wisdom we vener- 
ate, the example of heroes whose exploits we admire. I shall 
conclude what relates to the exciting of passion when I have 
remarked that pleading the importance and the other pathetic 
circumstances, or pleading the authority of opinions or pre- 
cedents, is usually considered, and aptly enough, as beinjf 
likewise a species of reasoning. 

This concession, however, doth not imply, that by any 
reasoning we are ever taught that such an object ought to 
awaken such a passion. This we must learn originally from 

so sparing. One is, the recency of the crime, as of the criminal's pretoi 
ship, was notorious; the other and the vvcighter is, that of all relations this 
IS the weakest ; and even what influence it hath, reflection serves rather 
to correct than to contirm. hi apfiearing to lay stress on so slight a cir- 
cumstance a speaker dis[)lays rather jienury of matter than aliundance. It 
is better, therefore, in most cases, to suggest it, as it were by accident, than 
to insist on it as of design. It deserves also to be reinarkecl, that the word 
here employed is very einphatical, as it conveys, at the same time, a tacit 
comparison of their so recent degeneracy wiih the freedom, security, and 
glory which they had long enjoyed. The same word is again introduced, 
No. 14, to the same intent. 'VbinWy, local cowtexion ; in respect of vicinage, 
how aflbctingly, though indirectly, is it touched. No. 4, C, 8, 1 1, 12 ? Ir.di 
redly, for reasons similar to those mentioned on the circumstance of time; 
as to otiier local connexions. No. 2, "in provincia populi Komani, in oppido 
faederatorum." VoartMy, personal relation; first of the perpetrator, No 2, 
'•abeoqui beneficio,"&c. : his crime, therefore, more attrocious and ungrate- 
ful, ilie most sacred rights violated by one who ought to have protected 
them ; next of the sufl'erer. No. 2, " rivis Komanus." This is most pathet- 
ically urged, and by a comparison introtluced, greatly heightened. No. 13, 
1 4. Fifthly, the interest ; which not the hearers only, but all who bear the 
Koman name, have in the consequences. No. 15, IG. We see in the above 
example with what uncommon address and delicacy those circumstances 
C'Ught to be sometimes blended, sometimes but insinuated, sometimes, on 
the contrary, warmly urged, sometimes shaded a little, that the art may be 
concealed ; and, in brief, the whole conducted so as that nothing material 
may be omitted, that every sentiment may easily follow that which pre- 
cedes, and usher that which follows it, and that everything said may ap- 
pear to be the language of pure nature. The art of tb.e rhetorician, like 
that of the philosopher, is analytical; the art of the orator is synthetical 
The former acts the part of the skilful anatomist, who, by removing the 
teguments, and nicely separating the parts, presents ns with views at once 
naked, distinct, and hideous, now of the structure of the bones, now of the 
muscles and tendons, now of the arteries and veins, now of the bowels, 
iiow of the brain and nervous system. The latter imitates Nature in the 
constructing of her work, who with wonderful symmetry unites the vari- 
ous organs, adapts them to their respective uses, and covers all with a de- 
cent veil, the skin. Thus, though she hide entirely the more minute and 
the interior parts, and show not to equal advantage even the articula 
lions of the limbs and the adjustment of the larger members, adds inei 
pi*«sible beauty, and strength, and energy » the whole. 


leeling, liot from argument. No speaker attempts to prove 
:t, though he sometimes introducelh moral considerations in 
order to justify the passion when raised, and to prevent the 
hearers from attempting to suppress it. Even when he is 
enforcing their regard to tlie pathetic circumstances above 
mentioned, it is not so much his aim to show that these cir 
cumstances ought to augment the passion, as that these cir- 
cumstances are in the object. The effect upon their minds 
he commonly leaves to nature, and is not afraid of the con- 
clusion if he can make every aggravating circumstance be, 
as it were, both perceived and felt by them. In the enthy- 
meme (the syllogism of orators, as Quintilian* terms it) em- 
ployed in such cases, the sentiment that such a quality or 
circumstance ought to rouse such a passion, though the found- 
ation of all, is generally assumed without proof, or evt.'i with- 
out mention. This forms the major proposition, wriich is 
suppressed as obvious. His whole art is exerted in evincing 
the minor, which is the antecedent in his argumen'., and 
which maintains the reality of those attendant circumstances 
in the case in hand. A careful attention to the examples of 
vehemence in the first chapter, and the quotation in the foro- 
ffoing note, will sufficiently illustrate this remark. 



I COME now to the second question on the subject of pas- 
sion. How is an unfavourable passion or disposition to be 
calmed ] The answer is, either, first, by annihilating, or at 
least diminishing, the object which raised it ; or, secondly, by 
exciting some other passion which may counterwork it. 

15y proving the falsity of the narration, or the utter incred- 
ibility of the future event, on the supposed truth of which the 
passion was founded, the object is annihilated. It is dimin- 
ished by all such circumstances as are contrary to those by 
which it is increased. These are, improbability, implausi- 
bilily, insignificance, distance of time, remoteness of place, 
the persons concerned such as we have no connexion wiih, 
the consequences such as we have no interest in. The meth- 
od recommended by Gorgias and approved by Aristotle, though 
peculiar in its manner, is, in those cases wherein it may prop- 
erly be attempted, coincident in efTect with that now men- 
tioned. "It was a just opinion of Gorgias, that the serious 
argument of an adversary should be confounded by ridicule, 
and his ridicule by serious argument. *'t For this is only en- 
deavouring, by the aid of laughter and contempt, to diminish 

* Instit., I , i., c. 9. 

t Aeiv C(pri Fopyiai ti7> jjcv airovS r}V &ia(pda()eiv tihv tvavTiuv ycXuTi, Tov in 
r«>ci)ra arovit; oiiOoii X() *iv. — Khel.. 1. ili., C. xvni. 


or even quite undo, the unfriendly emotions that have bee i 
raised in the minds of the hearers ; or, on the contrary, by 
satisfying them of the seriousness of the subject, and of the 
importance of its consequences, to extinguish the contempt 
and make the laughter which the antagonist wanted to excite, 
appear, when examined, no better than madness. 

The second way of silencing an unfavourable passion or 
disposition is by conjuring up some other passion or disposi- 
tion which may overcome it. With regard to conduct, when- 
ever the mind deliberates, it is conscious of contrary mo- 
tives impelling it in opposite directions ; in other words, it 
finds that acting thus would gratify one passion ; not acting, 
or acting otherwise, would gratify another. To take such a 
step, I perceive, would promote my interest, but derogate 
from my honour. Such another will gratify my resentment, 
but hurt my interest. When this is the case, as the speaker 
can be at no loss to discover the conflicting passions, he must 
be sensible that whatever foice he adds to the disposition 
that favours his design is, in fact, so much subtracted from 
the disposition that opposeth it, and conversely; as in the 
two scales of a balance, it is equal in regard to the effect, 
whether you add so much weigbt to one scale, or take it 
from the other. 

Thus we have seen in what manner passion to an absent 
object may be excited by eloquence, which, by enlivening 
and invigorating the ideas of imagination, makes them re- 
semble the impressions of sense and the traces of memory, 
and in this respect hath an effect on the mind similar to that 
produced by a telescope on the sight ; things remote are 
brought near, things obscure rendered conspicuous. We 
have seen, also, in what manner a passion already excited 
may be calmed ; how, by the oratorical magic, as by invert- 
ing the telescope, the object may be again removed and di- 

It were endless to enumerate all the rhetorical figures that 
are adapted to the pathetic. Let it sufllce to say, that mo.s) 
of those already named may be successfully employed here. 
Of others, the principal are these: correction, climax, vision 
exclamation, apostrophe, and interrogation. The first three, 
correction, climax, and vision, tend greatly to eilliven the 
ideas, by the implicit, but animated comparison and opposi- 
tion conveyed in them. Implicit and indirect comparison is 
more suitablf to the disturbed state of mind required by the 
pathetic than tliat which is explicit and direct. The lattei 
implies leisure and tranquillity, liie former rapidity and fire 
Exclamation and apostrophe operate chiefly by sympathy, as 
they are the ino.U ardent expressions of perturbation in the 
speaker. It at first sight appears more difficult to account 
for the effect of interrogation which, being an ap[teal to the 


hearers, tiiough it miglit awaken a closer attention, yet could 
not. one would imagine, excite in their minds any new emo- 
tion that was not there before. This, nevertheless, it doth 
excite, tlirough an oblique operation of the same principle. 
Such an appeal implies in the orator the strongest confidence 
in the rectitude of his sentiments, and in the concurrence of 
every reasonable being. The auditors, by sympathizing with 
this frame of spirit, find it impracticable to withhold an assent 
which i.s so confidently depended on. But there will be oc- 
casion afterward for discussing more particularly the rhetor- 
ical tropes and figures, when we come to treat of elocution. 
Thus I have finished the consideration which the speaker 
oi'.ght to have of his hearers as men in general ; that is, as 
thinking beings endowed with understanding, imagination, 
memory, and passions, such as we are conscious of in our- 
selves, and learn from the experience of their effects to be 
in others. I have pointed out the arts to be employed by 
him in engaging all those faculties in his service, that what 
fie advanceth may not only be understood, not only command 
attention, not only be re.nembered, but, which is the chief 
point of all. may interest the heart 



It was remarked in the beginning of the preceding chap- 
ter, that the hearers ought to be considered in a twofold view, 
as men in general, and as such men in particular. The first 
consideration I have despatched ; I now enter on the second. 

When it is affirmed that the hearers are to be considered 
as such men in particular, no more is meant than that regard 
ought to be had by the speaker to the special character of 
the audience, as composed of such individuals, that he may 
suit himself to them both in his style and in his arguments.* 
Now the difference between one audience and another is very 
great, not only in intellectual, but in nioral attainments. It 
may be clearly intelligible to a House of Commons, wliich 
would appear as if spoken in an unknown tongue to a con- 
venticle of enthusiasts. It may kindle fury in the latter, 
which would create no emotion in the former but laughter 
iud contempt. The most obvious difference that appears in 
different auditories results from the different cultivation o/ 

• l.'p must he •' Orpheus in svhis, '■^ter delphinas Arion." — Vircs. 


the understanding ; and the influpnce which this and thcil 
manner of life have, both upon the imagination and upon tnn 

But even in cases wherein the difference in education an 1 
moral culture hath not been considerable, different habits 
afterward contracted, and different occupations in life, give 
diflerent propensities, and make one incline more to one pas- 
sion, another to another. They consequently afford the in- 
U'lligent speaker an easier passage to the heart, through the 
channel of the favourite passion. Thus liberty and independ- 
ence will ever be prevalent motives with Republicans, pomp 
and splendour with those attached to monarchy. In mercan- 
tile states, such as Carthage among the ancients, or Holland 
among the moderns, interest will alwajs prove the most co- 
gent argument; in stales solely or chiefly composed of sol- 
diers, such as Sparta and ancient Rome, no inducement will 
oe found a counterpoise to glory. Similar differences are 
also to be made in addressing different classes of men. With 
men of genius, the most successful topic will be fame ; with 
men of industry, riches ; with men of fortune, pleasure. 

But as the characters of audiences may be infinitely diver 
sified, and as the influence they ought to have respective!} 
upon the speaker must be obvious to a person of discernmeni, 
it is sufficient here to have observed thus nmch in the general 
concerning them. 



The last consideration I mentioned is that which the speaker 
ought to have of himself By this we are to understand, not 
that estimate of himself which is derived directly from con- 
sciousness or self-acquaintance, but that which is obtained 
reflexively from the opinion entertained of him by the hear- 
ers, or the character which he ' ears with them. Sympathy 
is one main engine by which the orator operates on the pas- 

" With Ihcm who lau-gli our social joy appears ; 
With tlietn who mourn we sympathize in tears; 
If yon would have me weep, begin the strain, 
Then 1 shall feel your sorrows, feel your pain."* 


" Vt ridenlibus arrident, ita flentibus adfluent 
Humani vuitus. Si vis me llere, dolendum est 
Primum ip#i tibi : tunc tua me infortunia ladenl." 

HOR., De Arte Patt 


Whatever, therefore, weakens that principle of sympathy, 
must do the speaker unutterable prejudice in respect of his 
power over the passions of his audience, but not in this re- 
spect only. One source, at least, of the primary influence of 
testimony on faith, is doubtless to be attributed to the same 
communicative principle. At the same time it is certain, as 
was remarked above, that every testimony doth not equally 
attach this principle ; that in this particular the reputation of 
tlie attestor hath a considerable power. Now the speaker's 
Apparent conviction of the truth of what he advanceth adds 
to all his other arguments an evidence, though not precisely 
the same, yet near akin to that of his own testimony.* This 
hath some weight even with the wisest hearers, but is every- 
thing with the vulgar. Whatever, therefore, lessens sympa- 
thy, must also impair belief. 

Sympathy in the hearers to the speaker may be lessened 
several ways, chiefly by these two : by a low opinion of his 
intellectual abilities, and by a bad opinion of his morals. The 
latter is the more prejudicial of the two. INIen generally will 
think themselves in less danger of being seduced by a man 
of weak understanding but of distinguished probity, than by 
a man of the best understanding who is of a profligate life. 
So much more powerfuHj? do the qualities of the heart attach 
us than those of the head. 'IMiis preference, though it may 
be justly called untaught and instinctive, arising purely from 
the original frame of the mind, reason, or the knowledge of 
mankind acquired by experience, instead of weakening, seems 
afterward to corroborate. Hence it hath become a common 
topic with rhetoricians, that in order to be a successful ora 
tor, one must be a good man ; for to be good is the only sure 
way of being long esteemed good, and to be esteemed good 
is previously necessary to one's being heard with due atten- 
tion and regard. Consequently, the topic hath a foundation 
in human nature. There are, indeed, other things in the char- 
acter of the speaker, which in a less degree will hurt his in- 
fluence : youth, inexperience of affairs, former want of suc- 
"ess, and the like. 

But of all the prepossessions in the minds of the hearers 
which lend to impede or counteract the design of the speak- 
er, party spirit, where it happens to prevail, is the most per- 
nicious, being at once the most inflexible and the most un 
just. This prejudice I mention by itself, as those above re 
cited may have place at any time, and in any national cir- 
cumstances. This hath place only when a people is so un- 
fortunate as to be torn by faction. In that case, if the speak- 
er and the hearers, or the bulk of the hearers, be of contrary 

♦ " Ne illud quidem piaeteribo, quantam afferat fidem expositioni, nai 
untis auctoritas." — Quint., lib. iv., cap. ii. 


parties, their minds will be more prepossessed against him 
though his life were ever so blameless, than if he were a mai> 
of the most flagitious manners, but of the same party. Thif 
holds but too much alike of all parties, religious and politi 
cal. Violent party men not only lose all sympathy with those 
of the opposite side, but contract an antipathy to them. This, 
on some occasions, even the divinest eloquence will not sur- 

As to personal prejudices in general, I shall conclude wit , 
two remarks. The first is, the more gross the hearer.s arc 
so much the more susceptible they are of such prejudices 
Nothing exposes the mind more to all their baneful influen- 
ces than ignorance and rudeness ; the rabble chiefly consider 
who speaks, men of sense and education what is spoken 
Nor are the multitude, to do them justice, less excessive in 
their love than in their hatred, in their attachments than in 
their aversions. From a consciousness, it would seem, of 
llicir own incapacity to guide themselves, they are ever prone 
blindly to submit to the guidance of some popular orator, 
who hath had the address, first, either to gain their approba- 
tion by his real or pretended virtues, or, which is the easier 
way, to recommend himself to their esteem by a flaming 
zeal for tlieir favourite distinctions, and afterward by his elo- 
quence to work upon their passions. At the same time, it 
must be acknowledged, on the other hand, that even men o! 
the most improved intellects and most refined sentiments arr 
not iiltogethcr beyond the reach of preconceived opinion, ei 
thcr in the speaker's favour or to his prejudice. 

The second remark is, that when the opinion of the audi- 
ence is unfavourable, the speaker hath need to be much more 
cautious in every step he takes, to show more modesty, and 
greater deference to the judgment of his hearers ; perhaps, in 
order to win them, he may find it necessary to make some 
concessions in relation to his former principles or conduct, 
and to entreat their attention from pure regard to the subject, 
that, like men of judgment and candour, they would impar- 
tially consider what is said, and give a welcome reception to 
truth, from what quarter soever it proceed. Thu.- he must 
attempt, if possible, to mollify them, gradually to insinuate 
himself into their favour, and thereby imperceptibly to trans- 
fuse his sentiments and passions into their minds. 

The man who enjoys the advantage of popularity needs 
not this caution. The minds of his auditors are perfectly at 
tuned to his. They are prepared for adopting implicitly his 
opinions, and accompanying him in all his most passionate 
excursions;. When the people are willing to run with you, 
you may run as fast as you can, especially when the case re 
quires impetuosity and despatch. But if you find in them no 
Buch ardour, if it is not even without reluctance that they ar«' 


induced to walk with you, you must slacken your pace and 
Keep them company, lest they either stand still or turn back. 
Different rules are given by rhetoricians as adapted to differ- 
ent circumstances. Differences in this respect are number- 
less It is enough here to have observed those principles in 
the mind on which »he rules are founded. 



The principal sorts of discourses which here demand our 
notice, and on which I intend to make some observations, arc 
the three following : the orations delivered at the bar, those 
pronounced in the senate, and those spoken from the pulpit. 
I do not make a separate article of the speeches delivered 
by judges to their colleagues on liie bench, because, though 
there be something peculiar here, arising from the difference 
in character that subsists between the judge and the pleader, 
in all the other material circumstances, the persons addressed, 
the subject, the occasion, and the purpose in speaking, there 
is in tiiese two sorts a perfect coincidence. In like manner, 
I forbear to mention the theatre, because so entirely dissim- 
ilar, both in form and in kind, as hardly to be capable of a 
place in the comparison. Besides, it is only a cursory view 
of the chief differences, and not a critical examination of 
them all, that is here proposed, my design being solely to 
assist the mind both in apprehending rightly, and in applying 
properly, the principles above laid down. la this respect, 
the present discussion will serve to exemplify and illustrate 
those principles. Under these five particulars, therefore, the 
speaker, the hearers or persons addressed, the subject, the 
occasion, and the end in view, or the effect intended to be 
produced by the discourse, 1 shall range, for order's sake, the 
remarks 1 intend to lay before the reader. 



The first consideration is that of tiie character to be sus- 
tained by the speajier. It was remarked in general, in the 
preceding chapter, that for promoting the success of the ora- 
tor (whatever be the kind of public speaking in which he is 
roncern'^d), it is a matter of some consequence, that in the 


:>pinion of those whom he addiesseth, he is both a wise and 
a good man. But, though this iu some measure liolds uni- 
versally, nothing is more certain than that the degree of con- 
sequence which lies in their opinion is exceedingly different 
in the different kinds. In each it depends chiefly on two cir- 
cumstances, the nature of his profession as a public speaker, 
and the character of those to whom his discourses are ad 

As to the first, arising from the nature of the profession, il 
will not admit of a question that the preacher hath in this 
respect the most difficult task, inasmuch as he hath a charac- 
ter to support which is much more easily injured than that 
either of the senator or of the speaker at tho bar. No doubt 
the reputation of capacity, experience in affairs, anxi as much 
integrit}' as is thought attainable by those called men of the 
world, will add weight to the words of the senator ; that of 
skill in his profession, and fidelity in his representations, will 
serve to recommend what is spoken by the lawyer at the bar ; 
but if these characters in general remam unimpeached, the 
public will be sufficiently indulgent to both in every other re- 
spect. On the contrary, there is little or no indulgence, in 
regard to his own failings, to be expected by the man who is 
professedly a sort of authorized censor, who hath it in charge 
10 mark and reprehend the faults of others : and even in the 
execution of this so ticklish a part of his office, the least ex- 
cess on either hand exposeth him to censure and dislike. 
Too much lenity is cnougii to stigmatize him as lukewarm 
in the cause of virtue, and too nuich severity as a stranger 
to the spirit of the Gospel. 

But let us consider more directly what is implied in the 
character, that we may better judge of the efflect it will have 
on the expectations and demands of the people, and, conse- 
quently, on his public teaching. First, then, it is a character 
of some authority, as it is of one educated for a purpose so 
important as that of a teacher of religion. This authority, 
however, from the nature of the function, must be tempered 
Tyith moderation, candour, and benevolence. The preachei 
of the Gospel, as the very terms import, is the minister o! 
grace, the herald ef Divine mercy to ignorant, sinful, and 
erring men. The magistrate, on the contrary (under which 
term may be included secular judges and counsellors of every 
denomination), is the minister of Divine justice and of wrath 
H^ bearcth not the sword in vain* He is, on the part of Heav- 
en, the avenger of the society with whose protection he is 
intrusted, against all who invade its rights The first oper- 
ates chiefly on our love, the second on our fear. Minister of 
relief ion, like angel of God, is a name that ouglit to ccnvey 
the idea of something endearing and attractive ; whereas th« 
* Rom., xi'i., 4 


title minister oj justice invariably suggests the notion of some- 
thing awful and unrelenting. In the former, even his in<]ig- 
nalion against sin ought to be surmounted by his pity of the 
condition, and concern for the recovery of the sinner. Though 
firm in declaring the will of God, though steady in maintain- 
ing the cause of truth, yet. mild in his addresses to the peo- 
ple, condescending to the weak, using rather entreaty than 
command, beseeching them by the lowliness and gentleness 
of Christ, knowing that the servant of the Lord must not strive 
but be gentle to all men, apt to tench, patient, in meekness instruct- 
ing those that oppose themselves* He must be grave without 
moroseness, cheerful without levity. And even in setting 
before his people the terrors of the Lord, affection ought 
manifestly to predominate in the warning which he is com- 
pelled to give. From these few hints, it plainly appears that 
there is a certain delicacy in the character of a preachei 
which he is never at liberty totally to overlook, and to which, 
if there appear anything incongruous, either in his conduct 
or in his public performances, it will never fail to injure their 
effect. On the contrary, it is well known that as, in the 
other professions, the speaker's private life is but very little 
minded, so there are many things which, though they would 
be accounted nowise unsuitable from the bar or in the senate, 
would be deemed altogether unbefitting the pulpit. 

It ought not to be overlooked, on the other hand, that there 
is one peculiarity in the lawyer's professional charactei 
which is unfavourable to conviction, and consequently gives 
him some disadvantage both of the senator and the preacher 
We know that he must defend his client, and argue on th« 
side on which he is retained. We know, also, that a tri- 
fling and accidental circumstance, which nowise affects the 
merits of the cause, such as a prior application from the ad- 
verse part}'', would probably have made him employ the 
same acuteness and display the same fervour on the oppo 
site side of the question. This circumstance, though not 
considered as a fault in the character of the man, but as a 
natural, because an ordinary, consequent of the office, cannot 
fail, when reflected on, to make us shyer of yielding our as- 
sent. It removes entirely what was observed in the prece- 
ding chapter to be of great moment, our belief of the speaker's 
sincerity. This belief can hardly be rendered compatible 
with the knowledge that both truth and right are so common- 
ly and avowedly sacrificed to interest. I acknowledge that 
an uncommon share of eloquence will carry off the minds ol 
most people from attending to this circumstance, or, at least, 
from paying any regard to it. Yet Antony is represented by 
Oicerof as thinking the advocate's reputation so delicate, 

- 2 Tim., ii., it. 25. 

t Do Oral., lio. li Ergo ista studia non impiolw moiiorn'a inoiio ginl 

I'4'l THE piMi.osorirv of itiiF/rouic. 

that tlic pracUcc of amusing himself in philosophical dispu 
tations with )iis friends is siinicioiit, to Imrt it, and, conse- 
quenll)', to affect the crcdihility of his pleadinj^s. Snrely the 
barefaced prostitution of his talents (and in spite of Is com- 
monness, what else can we call it?) in supportini^ indiHer- 
cntly, as pecuniary considerations determine him, truth of 
falsehood, justice or injustice, must have a still worse efTecl 
on the opinion of his hearers. 

It was aHirnied that the consequence of tlic speaker's own 
character in furthering oi hinderinff his success, depends in 
siomc measure on the character of those whom he address- 
eth. Here, indeed, it will be; found, on in<|niry, that the 
preacher labours under a manifest disadvanta(re. Most con- 
gregations are of that kind, as will api)ear from tlie article 
innnediately succeedni^r, which, a^jreeably to an observation 
made in the fornu;r chapter, very much considers who 
speaks; those addressc.d from the bar or in the senate con 
sider more what is spoken. 

IN rkoai;d to tiik pkrsons adduesskd. 

The second particular mentioned as a ground of compan 
son is the consiileration of the character of tlic hearers, or 
more properly, the persons addressed. ^I'lie necessity which 
a speaker is under of suiting himself lo his audience, both 
that he may be understood by them, and that his wortls may 
have influence u()on ilicm, is, a maxim so evident as to need 
neither proof nor illustration, i 

Now the first remark that claims our attention licrc is, that 
the more mixed the auditory is, the greater is the difficulty 
of s[)eaking to them with efl^ect. 'J'he rea.son is obvious ; 
what will lend to favour your success witli on(^ may t(;nd to 
obstruct it with another. 'I'he more various, lli(,refor(!, the 
individuals arc in respect of age, rank, fijrlune, (■ducali(jn, 
prejudices, the more delicate must be the art of preserving 
propriety in an address to the whole. 'I'he pleadcrr has, in 
this respect, the simplest and the easiest task of all; the 
judges lo whom his oration is addressed being commonly 
nun of the same rank, of similar education, and not diflfering 
greatly in respect of studies or attainments. The di/Terence 
in these respects is much more considerable when In; ad- 
dresses the jury. A speaker in the Mouse of Peers hath n(»l 
so mixed an auditory as one who harangues iti the Iff^use of 
Commons. And even here, as all the nicnibers may be sup 
posed to liavc been educated as gentlemen, the audience in 

Opinionem isloriimsliKlinlnnim.nt HMnpirAnuo.m ornnihiim ar ifirii n\i\u\ 
qiiiro!* jiidiccnt, oriitori ;i<lvrTs.-iri;iin csscarbilrijr. liitminuil tiiiin <'t oralu 
«iK aiicioriliiieiri ct oraUoiii.-^ Mftn. 

TiiR rnii.osornY of khrioric. 125 

not nearly so jJiomisnioiis as \v(M"o llio popular assemblies 
of Athens and of Rome, to wliicli tlieir (ionia<T()frues (ieelaiin- 
ed with so nnieli viluMiicnce and so wonderful suecess. Yo' 
even of tlies<>, women, minors, and servants made no pari. 

We may, Ilierefore, justly reekon a Christian eonc:r(>patio(i 
in a populous and llourishiiifr city, where tlierc is a ureal va 
ricly in rank and edueation, to be of all audiences the most 
promiscuous. And thout;h it is impossible that, in so mixed 
■;i multilude, everylhinu that is advanced by the speaker 
Khould, both in sentiment and in exju'ession, be adapted to the 
ap])reh(Mision of every individual iiearer, and fall in with his 
particular jirepossessions, yet it may be expected that what- 
ever is advanced shall be within tiie reach of every class ol 
lu-arers, and shall not mmecessarily shock the innocent prej- 
udices of any. Tiiis is slUl, however, to be understood with 
the exception of mere chihhcn, fools, and a few others, who, 
throuijh tlie total neglect of i)arcnts or guardians in thtMr ed- 
ucation, are uiff^sly iirnoranl. Such, lluniu:!! in the andieneo, 
are not to be considered as constiiutin<i a part of if. Hut 
how ^reat is tiu' attention rccpiisiic in tlie s]H'aker in such 
ail .isseinl)ly, tliat wliile, on the one hand, lu> avoids, eitlier 
/u siyh^ or in sentiment, soarnii; al)ov<> tiu> capacity of the 
lower class, he may not, <mi liie otiicr, sink below the rcfjard 
of the hiffher. 'I'o attain simplicity witiioul flatness, delicacy 
wilhoin. relinemcnt. |)erspicuity withoiM recurring to low idi- 
oms and similitudes, will rcipiire his utmost care. 

Another remark on this articK" that deserves our notice is, 
that the less improved in knowiedire and discernnuMit the 
hearers are, the easier it is for the speaker to work upon 
their passions, and, by working on their passions, to obtain 
his end. This, it nnist be owned, appears, on the other hand, 
to pive a considerable advaiuaire to the preach(>r, as in no 
con^jreufalion can tlie bulk of the peojile be n^iriU'ded as on a 
footing, in point of improv«>ment, with either house of Parlia- 
ment, or with the judjies in a court of judicature. It is cer- 
tain, that the more ijross the hearers are. the more avowedly 
iuay vt)u address yourself to their passions, and the less oc- 
casion then' is for aririnnent ; whereas, tlic more inteiliijeut 
ihey are, the UKU'e covertly must y(ni operate on their pas- 
Bions, and the more attentive nmst you be in regard to the 
justness, or, at least, the s|)eeiousuess of your reasoning. 
Hence some have strangely conclude;', that the cnily scope 
for eloquence is in haranixuinij the multitude; tiiat in sraining 
over to \in\r purpose men of knowledge and breeding, the ex- 
ertion of oratorical talents hath no inlluence. This is pre- 
cisely as if one should arijue, because a mob is nnich easier 
subdued than regular troops. iIkm'c is no occasion for the ait 
of war, nor is there a jnoper field for the exertion of mil- 
'tary skill imless when you are (pielliug an undiscipliiK',' nil> 
l. -2 


ble. Ever}'body sees in this case not only liow absurd such 
a way of arguing would be, but that the very reverse ought 
to be the conclusion. The reason why people do not so 
quickly perceive the absurdity in the other case is, that they 
affix no distinct meaning o the word eloquence, often deno- 
ting no more by that term than simply the power of moving 
the passions. But even in this improper acceptation their 
uotion is far from being just ; for wherever there are men. 
learned or ignorant, civilized or barbarous, there are pas- 
sions ; and the greater the difficulty is in affecting these, the 
more art is requisite. A'he truth is, eloquence, like every 
other art, proposeth the accomplishment of a certain end. 
Passion is for the most part but the means employed for ef- 
fecting the end, and therefore, like all other means, will no 
farther be regarded in any case than it can be rendered con- 
ducible to the end A 

Now the preacher's advantage even here, in point of facil- 
ity, at least in several situations, will not appear, on reflec- 
tion, to be so great as on a superficial view it may be thought. 
Let it be observed, that, in such congregations as were sup 
posed, there is a mixture of superior and inferior ranks. I 
is therefore the business of the speaker so far only to accom- 
modate himself to one class as not wantonly to disgust an- 
other. Besides, it will scarcely be denied, that those in the 
superior walks of life, however much by reading and conver- 
sation improved in all genteel accomplishments, often have 
as much need of religious instruction and moral improve- 
ment as those who in every other particular are acknowl- 
edged to be their inferiors. And doubtless the reformation 
of such will be allowed to be, in one respect, of greater im- 
portance (and, therefore, never to be overlooked), that, in 
consequence of such an event, more good may redound to 
others from the more extensive influence of their authority 
and example. 



The third particular mentioned was the subject of discourse. 
This iray be considered in a twofold view : first, as imply- 
ing the topics of argument, motives, and principles which arn 
suited to each of the different kinds, and must be employed 
in order to produce the intended effect on the hearers; sec- 
i,Mdly, as implying tlie persons or things in whose favour or 
lo whose prejudice the speaker purposes to excite the pas- 
sions of the audience, and thereby to influence their determi- 

On the first ol these articles, I acknowledge the preacher 
hath incomparably the advantige of every other publ-c ora- 


tor. At the bar, critical explications of dark and ambiguous 
statutes, quotations of precedents sometimes contradictory, 
and comments on jarring decisions and reports, often neces- 
sarily consume tne greater part of the spealcer's time. Hence 
the mixture of a sort of metaphysics and verbal criticism, 
employed by lawyers in their pleadings, hath come to be dis- 
tinguished by the name of chicane, a species of reasoning too 
abstruse to command attention of any continuance even from 
the studious, and, consequently, not very favourable to the 
powers of rhetoric. When the argument doth not turn on tiie 
common law, cr on nice and hypercritical explications of the 
statute, but on the great principles of natural right and jus- 
tice, as sometimes happens, particularly in criminal cases, 
the speaker is much more advantageously situated for ex- 
liibiting his rhetorical talents than in the former case. When, 
in consequence of the imperfection of the evidence, the ques- 
tion happens to be more a question of fact than either of mu- 
nicipal law or of natural equity, the pleader hath more ad- 
vantages than in the first case, and fewer than in the second. 

Again, in the deliberations in the Senate, the utility or the 
disadvantages that will probably follow on a measure pro- 
posed, if it should receive the sanction of the Legislature, 
constitute the principal topics of debate. This, though it 
sometimes leads to a kind of reasoning rather too complex 
and involved for ordinary apprehension, is, in the main, more 
favourable to the display of pathos, vehemence, and sublimi- 
ty, than the much greater part of forensic causes can be said 
to be. That these qualities have been sometimes found in a 
very high degree in the orations pronounced in the British 
Senate, is a fact incontrovertible. 

But beyond all question, the preacher's subject of argu- 
ment, considered in itself, is infinitely more lofty and more 
affecting. The doctrines of religion are such as relate tc 
God, the adorable Creator and Ruler of the world, his attri- 
butes, government, and laws. What science to be compared 
with it in sublimity ! It teaches, also, the origin of man, his 
primitive dignity, the source of his degeneracy, the means of 
his recovery, the eternal happiness that awaits the good, and 
the future misery of the impenitent. Is there any kind of 
knowledge in which human creatures are so deeply interest- 
ed ! In a word, whether we consider the doctrines of reli- 
gion or its documents, the examples it holds forth to our imi- 
tation, or its motives, promises, and threatenings, we see on 
every hand a subject that gives scope for the exertion of all 
the highest powers of rhetoric. What are the sanctions 'of 
any human laws compared with the sanctions of the Divine 
/'aw, with which we are brought acquainted by the Gospel? 
Or where shall we find instructions, similitudes, and exanfi- 
ples that speak so directly to the heart as the parables and 
other divine lessons of our blessed Lord^ 


In legard to the second thing which I took nctue of as in 
chided under the general term subject, namely, the persons or 
things in whose favour, or to whose prejudice the speaker in- 
tends to excite the passions of the audience, and thereby to 
influence their determinations, the other two have commonly 
♦he advantage of the preacher. The reason is, that his sub- 
ject is generally things ; theirs, on the contrary, is persons. 
In what regards the painful passions, indignation, hatred, con- 
tempt, abhorrence, this diflerence invariably obtains. The 
preaclier's business is solely to excite your detestation of the 
crime, the pleader's business is principally to make you de- 
test the criminal. The former paints vice to you in all its 
odious colours, the latter paints the vicious. There is a de- 
gree of abstraction, and, consequently, a much greate'* de- 
gree of attention requisite to enable us to form just concep- 
tions of the ideas and sentiments of the fornser, whereas those 
of the latter, referring to an actual, perhaps a living, present, 
and well-known subject, are much more level to common 
capacity, and, therefore, not only are more easily apprehend- 
ed by the understanding, but take a stronger hold of the ima- 
gination. It would have been impossible even for Cicero to 
inflame the minds of the people to so high a pilch against op^ 
pression considered in the abstract, as he actually did inflame 
them against Verres l/te oppressor. Nor could he have in- 
censed them so much against treason and conspiracy., as he did 
incense them against ('atiline the traitor and conspirator. The 
like may be observed of the eff'ects of his orations against An- 
tony, and in a thousand other instances. 

Tliough the occasions in this way are more frequent at the 
bar, yet, as the deliberations in the senate often proceed on 
the reputation and past conduct of individuals, there is com- 
monly here, also, a much better handle for rousing the pas- 
sions than that enjoyed by the preacher. How much advan- 
tage Demosthenes drew from the known character and insid- 
ious arts of Philip, king of Macedon, for influencing the 
resolves of the Athenians and other Grecian states, those 
who are acquainted witli the Philippics of the orator, and the 
history of that period, will be very sensible. In what con- 
cerns the pleasing aflections, the preacher may sometimes, 
not often, avail himself of real human characters, as in fu- 
neral sermons, and in discourses on the patterns of virtue 
given us by our Saviour, and by those saints of whom we 
have the history in the sacred code. But such examples are 
comparatively few. 



The fourth circumstance mentioned as a grc und of corr* 


parisoii is the particular occasion of speaking ; and in this 1 
think it evident that both the pleader and the senator have 
the advantage of the preacher. When any important cause 
comes to be tried before a civil judicatory, or when any im- 
portant question comes to ae agitated in either house of Par- 
liament, as the point to be discussed hath generally, Ibrsome 
time before, been a topic (if conversation in most companies 
perhaps, throughout the kingdom (which of itself is sufficient 
to give consequence to anything), people are apprized before- 
liand of the particular day fixed for the discussion. Accord- 
ingly, they come prepared with some knowledge of the case 
a persuasion of its importance, and a curiosity which sharp- 
ens their attention, and assists both their understanding and 
their memory. 

Men go to church without any of these advantages. The 
subject of the sermon is not known to the congregation till 
the minister announces it, just as he begins, by reading the 
text. Now, from our experience of human nature, we may 
be sensible that whatever be the comparative importance of 
the things themselves, the generality of men cannot be here 
wrought up in an instant to the like anxious curiosity about 
what is to be said, nor can they be so well prepared for hear- 
ing it. It may, indeed, be urged, in regard to those subjects 
which come regularly to be discussed at stated times, as on 
public festivals, as well as in regard to assize sermons, char- 
ity sermons, and other occasional discourses, that these must 
be admitted as exceptions. Perhaps in some degree they are, 
but not altogether; for, first, the precise point to be argued, 
or proposition to be evinced, is very rarely known. The most 
that we can say is, that the subject will have a relation (some- 
times remote enough) to such an article of faith, or to the ob- 
ligations we lie under to the practice of such a duty. But, 
farther, if the topic were ever so well known, the frequent 
recurrence of such occasions, once a year at least, hath long 
familiarized us to them, and by destroying their novelty, hath 
abated exceedingly of that ardour which ariseth in the mind 
for hearing a discussion conceived to be of importance, which 
one never had access to hear before, and probably never will 
have access to hear again. 

I shall here take notice of another circumstance, which, 
without great stretch, may be classed under this article, and 
which likewise gives some advantage to the counsellor and 
the senator. It is the opposition and contradiction which 
they expect to meet with. Opponents sharpen one another, 
as iron sharp(;neth iron. There is nul the same spur either 
to exertion in the speaker, or to attention in the hearer, 
where there is no conflict, where you have no adversary to 
encounter on equal terms. Mr. BickerstafF would have made 
but small progress in the science of defence, by oushing al 


(he h man figure which he had chalked upon the wall,* in 
comp. rison ol" what he might have made by the help of a fel 
low-cv^mljatant of flesh and blood. I do not, however, pre- 
tend that these cases are entirely parallel. The whole of an 
adversary's plea may be perfectly known, and may, to the 
satisfaction of every reasonable person, be perfectly confu- 
ed, though he hath not been heard by counsel at the bar. 



The fifth and last particular mentioned, and, indeed, the 
nost important of them all, is the effect in each species in- 
ended to be produced. The primary intention of preaching 
.b the reformation of mankind. The grace of God, that bring- 
hth salvation, hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying 
ungodliness and loorldly .asts, we should lice soberly, righteously, 
and godly in this present world.] Reformation of life and man- 
ners—of all things that whicii is the most diflicult by any 
means whatever to effectuate ; I may add. ci all tasks ever 
attempted by persuasion — that which has the n»osl frequent- 
ly baffled its power. 

What is the task of any other orator com[)ared witii this ? 
It is really as nothing at all, and hardly deserves to be named. 
An unjust judge, gradually worked on by the resistless force 
of human eloquence, may be persuaded, against his inclina- 
tion, perhaps against a previous resolution, to pronounce an 
equitable sentence. All the <;ffect on him, intended by the 
pleader, was merely momentaiy. The orator hath had the 
address to employ the time allowed him in such a manner 
as to secure the happy moment. Notwithstanding this, there 
may be no real change wrought upon the judge. He may 
contiiuie the same obdurate wretch he was before. Nay, if 
the sentence had been de aycd but a single day after hearing 
the cause, he would, perhaps, have given a very different 

Is it to be wondered at, that when the passions of the peo 
pie were agitated by the persuasive powers of a Demosthe- 
nes, while the thunder of his eloquence was yet sounding in 
their ears, the orator should be absolute master of their re- 
solves ? But an apostle or evangelist (for there is no an- 
achronism in a bare supposition) might have thus addressed 
the celebrated Athenian: "You do, indeed, succeed to ad- 
miration, and the address and genius which you display in 
speaking justly entitle you to our praise. But, however 
great the consequences may be of the measures to which, by 
your eloquence, they are determined, the change produced 
in the peonle is nothing, or next to nothing. If yon would 
< ■• • ' Til., ii.. II. 12 


be ascertained of the truth of this, allow the assembly to 
disperse immediately after hearing you ; give them time to 
cool, and then collect their votes, and it is a thousand to one 
you shall find nat the charm is dissolved. But very different 
is the purpose of the Christian orator. It is not a momenta- 
ry, but a permanent effect at which he aims. It is not an im- 
mediate and favourable suffrage, but a thorough change of 
heart and disposition that will satisfy his view. That man 
would need to be possessed of oratory superior to human who 
would effectually persuade him that stole to steal no more, 
the sensualist to forego his pleasures, and the miser his 
hoards, the insolent and haughty to become meek and hum- 
ble, the vindictive forgiving, the cruel and unfeeling mercifu 
and humane." 

I may add to these considerations, that the difficulty lies 
not only in the permanency, but in the very nature of the 
change to be effected. It is wonderful, but is too well vouch- 
ed to admit a doubt, that by the powers of rhetoric you may 
produce in mankind almost any change more easily than 
this. It is not unprecedented, that one should persuade a 
multitude, from mistaken motives of religion, to act the part 
of ruffians, fools, or madmen ; to perpetuate the most ex- 
travagant, nay, the most flagitious actions ; to steel their 
liearts against humanity, and the loudest calls of natural af- 
fection; but where is the eloquence that will gain such an 
ascendant over a multitude as to persuade them, for the love 
of God, to be wise, and just, and good ? Happy the preacher 
whose sermons, by the blessing of Heaven, have been instru- 
mental in producing even a few such instances ! Do but 
look into the annals of Church History, and you will soon be 
convinced of the surprising difference there is in the two 
cases mentioned, the amazing facility of the one, and the al- 
most impossibility of the other. 

As to the foolish or mad extravagances, hurtful only to 
themselves, to which numbers maybe excited by the powers 
of persuasion, the history of the Flagellants, and even the 
history of Monachism, afford many unquestionable examples. 
But, what is much worse, at one time you see Europe nearly 
depopulated at the persuasion of a fanatical monk, its inhabi- 
tants rushing armed into Asia, in order to fight for Jesus 
Christ, as they termed it, but as it proved, in fact, to disgrace, 
as far as lay in them, the name of Christ and of Christian 
among infidels : to butcher those who never injured them, 
and to whose lands they had at least no better title than those 
whom they intended, by all possible means, to dispossess ; 
and to give the world a melancholy proof that there is no 
pitch of brutality and rapacity to which the passions of ava- 
lice and ambition, consecrated and inflamed by religious en- 
thusiasm, will not drive mankind. At another time you see 


multitudes, by the like methods, worked up into a fury againsi 
their innocent countrymen, neighbours, friends, and kinsmen, 
glorying in being the most active in cutting the throats o. 
these who were formerly held dear to them. 

Such were tlie Crusades, preached up but too effectually 
first against the Mohammedans in the East, and next against 
Christians, whom they called heietics, in the heart of Europe. 
And even in our own time, have we not seen new factions 
raised by popular declaimers, whose only merit was impu- 
dence, whose only engine of influence was calumnj'^ and 
self-praise, whose only moral lesson was malevolence ! As 
to the dogmas whereby such have at any time aifected to 
discriminate themselves, these are commonly no other thau 
the shibboleth, the watchword of the party, worn, for distinc- 
tion's sake, as a badge, a jargon unintelligible alike to the 
teacher and to the learner. Such apostles never failed to 
make proselytes. For who would not purchase heaven at 
so cheap a rate ^ There is nothing that people can more 
easily afford. It is only to tliink very well of their leader 
and of themselves, to think very ill of their neiglibour, to ca- 
lumniate him freely, and to hate him heartily. 

I am sensible that some will imagine that this account it 
self throws an insuperable obstacle in our way, as from it one 
will naturally infer that oratory nmst be one of the most dan- 
gerous things in the world, and much more capable of doing 
ill than good. It needs but some reflection to make this 
mighty obstacle entirely vanish. Very little eloquence is 
necessary for persuading people to a conduct to which theit 
own depravity hath previously given them a bias. How 
soothing is it to them not only to have their minds made easy 
under the indulged malignity of their disposition, but to have 
that very malignity sanctified with a good name. So little ol 
the oratorical talent is required here, that those who court 
popular applause, and look upon it as the pinnacle of humar 
glory to be blindly followe('. by the multitude, commonly re 
cur to defamation, especiiilly of superiors and brethren, no 
so nmch for a subject on v/^hich they may display their elo 
qucnce, as for a succedan^um to supply their want oi elo 
^-icnce — a succedaneum wnich never yet was found to fail. 
I knew a preacher who, by this expedient alone, from being 
Jong the aversion of the populace on account of his dulness. 
awkwardness, and coldness, all of a sudden became thtir 
idol. Little force is necessary to push down heavy bodiev" 
placed on the verge of a declivity, but much force is requi- 
site to stop them in their progress and push them up. 

If a man should say that, because the first is more fre- 
quently^ effected than the last, it is the best trial of strength 
and the only suitable use to which it can be applied, we should 
at least not think him remarkable for distinctness in his ideas 


Popularity alone, therefore, is no test at all of the eloquence 
of the speaker, no more than velocity alone would be of the 
force of the external impulse originally given to the body 
moving. As in this the direction of the body and other cir- 
cumstances must be taken into the account, so in that, you 
must consider the tendency of the teacliing, whether it fa- 
vours or opposes the vices of the hearers. To head a sect 
to infuse party spirit, to make men arrogant, uncharitable, 
and malevolent, is the easiest task imaginable, and to which 
almost any blockhead is fully equal. But to produce the con- 
trary effect ; to subdue the spirit of faction, and that monstei 
spiritual pride, witli which it is invariably accompanied ; to 
inspire equity, moderation, and charity into men's sentiments 
and conduct with regard to others, is the genuine test of elo- 
quence. Here its triumph is truly glorious, and in its appli- 
cation to this end lies its great utility : 

" The gates of hell art. open night and day ; 
Smooth the descent, and easj is the way ; 
lUit to return and view the cheerfid fkies — 
In this the task and mighty labour lies."* — Drydem. 

Now in regard to the comparison, from which I fear I shall 
be thought to have digressed, between the forensic and sena- 
torian eloquence and that of the pulpit, I must not omit to ob 
serve, that in what I say of the difference of the effect to be 
produced by the last-mentioned species, I am to be under- 
stood as speaking of the effect intended by preaching in gen- 
eral, and even of that which, in whole or in part, is, or ought 
to be, either more immediately or more remotely, the scope 
of all discourses proceeding from the pulpit. I am, at the 
same time, sensible that in some of these, besides the ulti- 
mate view, there is an immediate and outward effect which 
the sermon is intended to produce. This is the case particu- 
larly in charity-sermons, and perhaps some other occasional 
discourses. Now of these few, in respect of such immediate 
purpose, we must admit that they bear a pretty close analogy 
to the pleadings of the advocate and the orations of the sena- 

Upon the whole of the comparison I have stated, it appears 
manifest that, in most of the particulars above enumerated, 
the preacher labours under a very great disadvantage. He 
hath himself a more delicate part to perform than either the 
pleader or the senator, and a character to maintain which is 
much more easily injured. The auditors, though rarely sc 
accomplished as to require the same accuracy of compositior 

" Facilis descensus Averni . 
Noctes atque dies patet atri jinua Ditis . 
Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras 
Hie labor, hoc opus est." — Virg.. .ib. vi. 



or acuteness in reasoning as may be expected in the othei 
two. are more various in age, rank, taste, inclinations, senti- 
ments, prejudices, to which he must accommodate himself. 
And if he derives some advantages from the richness, the va- 
riety, and the nobleness of the principles, motives, and argu- 
ments with which his subject furnishes him, he derives also 
some inconveniences from this circumstance, that almost tho 
only engine by which he can operate on the passions of his 
hearers is the exhibition of abstract qualities, virtues, and vi- 
ces, whereas that chiefly employed by other orators is the 
exhibition of real persons, the virtuous and the vicious. Nor 
are the occasions of his addresses to the people equally fit- 
ted with those of the senator and of the pleader for exciting 
their curiosity and riveting their attention. And, finally, the 
task assigned him, the effect which he ouglit ever to have in 
view, is so great, so important, so durable, as seems to bid 
defiance to the strongest efforts of oratorical genius. 

Nothing is more common than for people, I suppose with- 
out reflecting, to express liieir wonder that there is so little 
eloquence among our preachers, and that so little success at- 
tends their preaching. As to the last, their success, it is a 
matter not to be ascertained with so much precision as some 
appear fondly to imagine. Tlie evil prevented, as well as the 
good promoted, ought here, in all justice, to come into the 
reckoning; and what tliat may be, it is impossible in any 
supposed circumstances to determine. As to the first, their 
eloquence, I acknowledge that, for my own part, considering 
liow rare the talent is among n^.cn in general ; considering all 
the disadvantages preachers labour under, not only those 
above enumerated, but others, arising from their different 
situations ; pariiculariy considering the frequency of this ex 
ercise, together witli the otiier duties of their oflice, to which 
the fixed pastors are obliged, I have been for a long time 
more disposed to wonder that we hear so many instructive 
and even eloquent sermons, than that we hear so few. 



It hath been observed already,* that without some f»ratifi- 
cation in hearing, the attention must inevitably flag; and it 

* f "hni)tr>r iv. 


Is manifest from experience, that nothing tends more effectu- 
ally to prevent this conseqiusnce, and keep our attention alive 
and vigorous, than the pathetic, which consists chiefly in ex- 
hibitions of human misery. Yet that such exhibitions should 
so highly gratify us, appears somew^hat mysterious. Evevy- 
body is sensible that, of all qualities in a woric of genius, this 
is that which endears it most to the generality of readers. 
One would imagine, on the first mention of this, that it were 
mpossible to account for it otherwise than from an innate 
principle of malice, which teacheth us to extract delight to 
ourselves from the sufferings of others, and, as it were, to en- 
joy their calamities. A very little reflection, however, would 
suflice for correcting this error; nay, without any reflection, 
we may truly say that the common sense of mankind pre- 
vents them effectually from falling into it. Bad as we are, 
and prone as we are to be hurried into the worst of passions 
by self-love, partiality, and pride, malice is a disposition 
which, either in the abstract, or as it discovers itself in the 
actions of an indifferent person, we never contemplate with- 
out feeling a just detestation and abhorrence, being ready to 
pronounce it the ugliest of objects. Yet this sentiment is 
not more universal than is the approbation and even love that 
we bestow on the tender-hearted, or those who are most ex- 
quisitely susceptible of all the influence of the pathetic. Nor 
are there any two dispositions of which human nature is ca- 
pable, that have ever been considered as farther removed 
from each other than the malicious and the compassionate 
are. The fact itself, that the mind derives pleasure from 
representations of anguish, is undeniable ; the question about 
the cause is curious, and hath a manifest relation to my sub- 

I purposed, indeed, at first, to discuss this point in that part 
of the sixth chapter which relates to the means of operating 
on the passions, with which the present inquiry is intimately 
connected. Finding afterward that the discussion would 
piove rather too long an interruption, and that the other 
p"ints which came naturally to be treated in that place could 
be explained with sufl^cient clearness independently of this, 
I judged it better to reserve this question for a separate 
chapter. Various hypotheses have been devised by the in- 
genious in order to solve the difficulty. These I shall first 
briefly examine, and then lay before the reader what appears 
to me to be the true solution. Of all that have entered intj 
the subject, those who seem most to merit our regard are 
two French critics, and one «f our own country. 




Part I. The First Hypothesis. 

Abbe du Bos begins liis excellent reflections on poetry ana 
painting witli that very question wliich is the subject of this 
chapter, and in answer to it supports at some length* a the- 
or)-, the substance of which I shall endeavour to comprise in 
a few words. Few things, according to him, are more disa- 
greeable to the mind than that listlessness into which it falls 
when ii has nothing to occupy it or to awake the passions. 
In order to get rid of thi.s most painful situation, it seeks 
with avidity every amusement and pursuit ; business, ga- 
ming, news, shows, public executions, romances ; in short, 
whatever will rouse the passions, and take off llie mind's at- 
tention from itself. It matters not what the einotion be, 
only the stronger it is, so much the belter ; and for this rea- 
son, those passions which, considered in themselves, are the 
most afflicting and disagreeable, are preferable to the pleas- 
ant, inasmuch as they most effectually relieve the soul from 
that oppressive languor which preys upon it in a state of in 
activity. They aflord it ample occupation, and by giving 
play to its latent movements and springs of action, convey i 
pleasure which more than counterbalances the pain. 

I admit, with INlr. Hume,t that there is .'some weight ik 
these observations, which may sufliciently account for the 
pleasure taken in gaming, huntmg, and several other diver- 
sions and sports. But they are not quite satisfactory, as 
.hey do n-st assign a sunicicnl reason why poets, painters, 
md orators exercise themselves more in actuating the pain 
nil passions than in exciting the pleasant. These, one woul(? 
think, ought in every respect to have the advantage, because 
at the same lime that ihey preserve the mind from a state 
of inaction, they convey a feeliuR- that is allowed to be agree- 
able ; and th'jugh it were granted that passions of the former 
kind are stronger than those of the latter (which doth not hold 
invariably, there being, perhaps, more examples of persons 
who have been killed witli joy than of those who have died o\ 
grief), strength alone will not account for the preference. It 
by no means holds here, that the stronger the emotion is, so 
much the filter for this purpose. On the contrary, if you 
exceed but ever so little a certain measure, instead of that 
sympatiietic, delightful sorrow which makes affliction itsell 
wear a lovely aspect, and engages the mind to hug it, not 
inly with tenderness, l)ut with transport, you only excite 

•■ Reflexions Critiques sur la Pocsie et sur la Peinture, sect, i., ii., iii 
* Kssai? on Trai'eilv. 


horror and aversion " It is certain," says the aiithoi last 
quoted, yery justly,* " tl^at the same object of distress which 
pleases in a tragedy, were it really set before us, would give 
the most unfeigned uneasiness, though it be then the most 
effectual cure of languor and indolence." And it is nioro 
lian barely possible, even in the representations of the tra- 
gedian, or in the descriptions of the orator or the poet, to 
exceed that measure. I acknowledge, indeed, that this meas- 
ure or degree is not the same to every temper. Some are 
much sooner shocked with mournful representations than 
others. Our mental, like our bodily appetites and capacities, 
arc exceedingly various. It is, however, the business of both 
the speaker and the v/riter to accommodate himself to what 
may be styled the common standard ; for there is a common 
standard in what regards the faculties of tlie mind, as well 
as in what concerns the powers of the body. Now if there 
be any quality in the afflictive passions, besides their strength, 
that renders them peculiarly adapted to rescue the mind from 
that torpid, but corrosive rest which is considered as the 
greatest of evils, that quality ought to have been pointed out 
for till then, the phenomenon under examination is not ac 
counted for. The most that can be concluded from the ab- 
be's premises is the utility of exciting passion of some kin.:! 
or other, but nothing that can evince the superior fitness of 
the distressful affections. 

Part II. The Second Hypothesis. 
The next hypothesis is Fontenelle's.f Not havmg the or' 
ginal at hand at present, I shall give Mr. Hume's translation 
of the passage, in his Essay on Tragedy above quoted 
" Pleasure and pain, which are two sentiments so dilTereiit 
in themselves, diff"er not so much in their cause. From the 
instance of tickling, it appears that the movement of pleasure 
pushed a little too far, becomes pain ; and that the inove 
ment of pain, a little moderated, becomes pleasure. Hence 
it proceeds that there is such a thing as a sorrow soft and 
agreeable. It is a pain weakened and diminished. The 
heart likes naturally to be moved and affected. Melancholy 
objects suit it, and even disastrous and sorrowful, provided 
they are softened by some circumstance. It is certain that, 
on the theatre, the representation has almost the effect of re- 
ality ; but yet it has not altogether that effect. However we 
may be hurried away by the spectacle, whatever dominion 
the senses and imagination may usurp over the reason, there 
still lurks at the bottom a certain idea of falsehood in the 
whole of what we see. This idea, though weak and dis- 
guised suffices to diminish the pain which we suffer from 
the misfortunes of those whom we love, and to reduce that 

♦ Essay on Tiagcdy. t Reflexions siir la Poetique, sect, xxxvi. 

M 2 


affliction to such a pitch as converts it into a pleasure. We 
Heep for 'he misfortunes of a hero to whom we are attaclied. 
In the same instant we comfort ourselves by reflecting that 
it is nothing but a fiction ; and it is precisely that mixture of 
sentiments which composes an agreeable sorrow, and tears 
that delight us. But as that affliction which is caused by 
exterior and sensible objects is stronger than tlie consola- 
tion which arises from an internal reflection, they are the 
effects and symptoms of sorrow which ought to prevail in 
the composition." 

I cannot affirm that this solution appears to me so just and 
convincing as it seems it did to Mr. Hume. If this English 
version, like a faithful mirror, reflect the true image of the 
Krench original, 1 think tlic author in some degree chargeable 
with what, in that language, is emphatically enough styled 
ccrbiaire, a maimer of writing very common with those of his 
nation, and with their imitators in ours. The only truth that 
I can discover in his hypothesis lies in one small circum 
stance, which is .so far irom being applicable to the whole 
case under consideration, that it can properly be applied but 
to a very few particular instances, and is therefore no solution 
at all. That there are at least many cases to which it can- 
not be applied, the author la-st mentioned declares himself to 
be perfectly sensible. 

But let us examine the passage more narrowly. He be 
gins with laying it down as a general principle, that howev- 
er diflerent the feelings of pleasure and of pain in themselves, 
they differ not much in their cause ; that the movement of 
pleasure, pushed a little too far, becomes pain ; and that the 
movement of pain, a little moderated, becomes pleasure. For 
an illustration of this, he gives an example in tickling. I 
will admit that there are several other similar instances in 
which the observation to appearance holds. The warmth 
received from sitting near the fire, by one who hath been al- 
most chilled with cold, is very pleasing ; yet you may iii- 
crexse this warmth, first to a disagreeable heat, and then to 
burning, which is one of the greatest torments. It is never- 
theless extremely hazardous, on a few instances, and those 
not perfectly parallel to the case in hand, to found a general 
theory. Let us make the experiment how the application of 
this doctrine to the passions of the mind will answer. And 
for our greater security against mistake, let us begin with 
the simplest cases in the direct, and not in the reflex or sym- 
pathetic passions, in which hardly ever any feeling or affec- 
tion comes alone. A merchant loseth all his fortune by a 
shipwreck, and is reduced at one stroke from opulence to 
indigence. His grief, we may suppose, v,\l\ be very violent. 
If he had lost half his stock only, it is natural to think he 
would have borne the loss more easily, the ugh still he would 


havi! been affected— perhaps the loss of fifty pounds he wou.d 
scarcely have felt — but I should be glad to know how much 
the movement or passion must be moderated ; or, in other 
words, as the difference ariseth solely from the different de- 
press of the cause, how small the loss must be when the sen- 
timent or feeling of it begins to be converted into a real pleas- 
ure ; for to me it doth not appear natural that any the most 
trilling loss, were it of a single shillmg, should be the subject 
of positive delight. 

Hut to try another instance : a gross and public insult com- 
monly provokes a very high degree of resentment, and gives 
a most pungent vexation to a person of sensibility. I would 
gladly know whether a smaller affront, or some slight in- 
stance of neglect or contempt, gives such a person any pleas- 
ure. Try the experiment also on friendship and hatred, and 
you will find the same success. As the warmest friendship 
is highly agreeable to the mind, the slightest liking is also 
agreeable, though in a less degree. Perfect hatred is a kind 
of torture to the breast that harbours it, which will not be 
found capable of being mitigated into pleasure ; for there is 
no degree of ill-will without pain. The gradation in the 
cause and in the eflect are entirely correspondent. 

Nor can any just conckision be drawn from the afifections 
of the body, as in these the consequence is often solely im- 
putable to a certain proportion of strength in the cause that 
operates, to the present disposition of the organs. But though 
I cannot find that in any uncompounded passion the most re 
mote degrees are productive of such contrary effects, I dc 
not deny that when different passions are blended, some of 
Ihem pleasing and some painful, the pleasure or the pain of 
those which predominate may, through the wonderful mech- 
anism* of our mental frame, be considerably augmented by 
the mixture. 

The only truth which, as I hinted already, I can discover 
in the preceding hypothesis, is, that the mind in certain cases 
avails itself of the notion of falsehood in order to prevent the 
representation or narrative from producing too strong an ef- 
fect upon the imagin<ition, and, consequently, to relieve itself 
from such an excess of passion as could not otherwise fail 
to be painful. But let it be observed that this notion is not 
a necessary concomitant of the pleasure that results from 
pity and other such affections, but is merely accidental. It 
was remarked above, that if the pathetic exceeds a certe.n 

♦ The word mechanism, applied to the mind, ought not reasonably to 
jive offence to sny. I only use the term metaphorically for those effects 
Ti the operation of the mental faculties produced in consequence of such 
hxed laws as are independent of the will. It hath here, therefore, no refer 
«nce to the doctrine of the Materia/ isls, a system which, in my opinion, ia 
Dot only untenable, but absurd. 


measure, from being very pleasant it becomes very jiainful 
Then the mind recurs to every expedient, and to disbelief 
among others, by which it may be enabled to disburden itsell 
of what distresseth it ; and, indeed, whenever this recourse 
is had by any, it is a sure indication that, with regard to such 
the poet, orator, or historian hath exceeded the proper meas- 

15ut that this only holds when we are too deeply interested 
by the sympathetic sorrow, will appear from the following 
considerations : first, from the great pains often taken by 
writers (whose design is certainly not to shock, but to please 
their readers) to make the most moving stories they relate 
be firmly believed ; secondl)% from the tendency, nay, fond- 
ness, of the generality of mankind to believe what moves 
them, and their averseness to be convinced that it is a fiction. 
This can result only from the consciousness that, in ordina- 
ry cases, disbelief, by weakening tlicir pity, would diminish, 
instead of increasing, their pleasure. 'I'iiey must be very 
far, then, from entertaining Kontenclle's notion tliat it is ne- 
cessary to the producing of that pleasure, for we cannot well 
suspect them of a plot against their own enjoyment ; thirdly, 
and lastly, from the delight which we lake in readingor heal- 
ing the most tragical narrations of orators and historians, ol 
the rcahly of which we entertain no doubt ; I might add, in 
revolving in om- minds, and in relating to others, disastrous 
incidents which have fallen within the compass of our own 
knowledge, and as to which, consequently, we have an abso 
lute assurance of the fact. 

Part. III. The Third Ili/pothesis. 
The third hypothesis which I shall produce on this subject 
IS Mr. Hume's ; only it ought to be remarked previously that 
he doth not propose it as a full solution of the question, but 
rather as a supplement to the former two, in the doctrine of 
both which he, in a great measure, acquiesces. Take his 
theory in his own words. He begins with putting the ques- 
tion, " What is it, then, which in tliis case," that is, when the 
sorrow is not softened by fiction, " raises a pleasure from the 
bosom of uneasiness, so to speak ; and a pleasure, which still 
retains all the features and outward symptoms of distress and 
sorrow ? 1 answer. This extraordinary effect proceeds from 
that very eloquence with which the melancholj^ scene is rep- 
resented. The genius required to paint objects in a lively 
manner, the art employed in collecting all the pathetic cir 
cumstances, the judgment displayed in disposing them — the 
exercise,! say, of these noble talents, together with the force 
of expression and beauty of oratorical numbers, diffuse the 
highest satisfaction on the audience, and excite the most de- 
lightful movements. fJv this means, tlie uneasiness of lht» 


melancholy passions is not only overpowered and effaced by 
something stronger of an opposite kind, but the whole move- 
ment of those passions is converted into pleasure, and swells 
the delight which the eloquence raises in us. The same 
force of oratory employed on an uninteresting subject would 
not please half so much, or, rather, would appear altogether 
ridiculous; and ihe mind being left in absolute calmness or 
indifference, would relish none of those beauties of imagina- 
tion or expression which, if joined to passion, give it such ex- 
quisite entertainment. The impulse or vehemence arising 
from sorrow, compassion, indignation, receives a new direc- 
tion from the sentiments of beauty. The latter, being the 
predominant emotion, seize the whole mind, and convert the 
former into themselves, or, at least, tincture them so strong- 
ly as totally to alter their nature ; and the soul being at the 
same time roused by passion and charmed by eloquence, feels 
on the whole a strong movement which is altogether de- 

1 am sorry to say, but truth compels me to acknowledge, 
that I have reaped no more satisfaction from this account of 
the matter than from those which preceded it. I could have 
wished, indeed, that the author had been a little more explicit 
in his manner of expressing himself, for I am not certain that 
I perfectly comprehend his meaning. At one time he seems 
only to intend to say that it is the purpose of eloquence, to 
the promoting of which its tropes and figures are wonderful- 
ly adapted, to infuse into the mind of tlie hearer sucli com- 
passion, sorrow, indignation, and other passions, as are, not- 
withstanding their original character when abstractly consid- 
ered, accompanied with pleasure. At another time it appears 
rather his design to signify, though he doth not plainly speak 
it out, that the discovery made by the hearer of the admirable 
art and ingenuity of the speaker, and of the elegance and har- 
mony of what is spoken, gives that peculiar pleasure to the 
mind which makes even the painful passions become de- 

If the first of these be all that he intended to affirm, he 
hath told us, indeed, a certain truth, but nothing new or un- 
common ; nay, more, he hath told us nothing that can serve 
iu the smallest degree for a solution of the difficulty. Who- 
ever doubted that it is the design and work of eloquence to 
move the passions and to please ? The question which this 
naturally gives rise to is. How doth eloquence produce this 
effect^ This, I believe, it will be acknowledged to do prin- 
cipally, if not solely, agreeablj to the doctrine explained 
above,* by communicating lively, distinct, and strong ideas 
of the distres.i which it exhibits. By a judicious yet natural 

* Ciiao. V!. 


arrangement of tlie most affecting circumstances, ly a propel 
selection of the most suitable tropes and figures, it enlivens 
the ideas raised in the imagination to such a pitch as makes 
chem strongly resemble the perceptions of the senses or the 
transcripts of the memory. The question, then, with which 
wc are immediately concerned, doth obviously recur, and 
seems, if possible, more mysterious than before ; for how car 
the aggravating of all the circumstances of misery in the rep 
resentation make it be contemplated with pleasure 1 One 
would naturally imagine that this must be the most effectual 
method of making it give still greater pain. How can the; 
heightening of grief, fear, anxiety, and other uneasy sensa- 
tions, render them agreeable ! 

Besides, this ingenious author has not adverted that his 
liypothesis, instead of being s^ipplementary to Fontenelle's, 
as he appears to have intended, is subversive of the princi- 
ples on which the French critic's theory is founded. The ef- 
fect, according to the latter, results from moderating, weak- 
ening, softening, and diminishing the passion. According to 
the former, it results from what is directly opposite, from the 
arts employed by the orator for the purpose of exaggeration, 
strengthening, heightening, and inflaming the passion. In 
deed, neither of these writers seem to have attended suffi- 
ciently to one particular, which of itself might have shown the 
insufliciency of their systems. The particular alluded to is, 
tiiat pity, if it exceed not a certain degree, gives pleasure to 
the mind when excited by the original objects in distress, as 
well as by the representations made by poets, painters, and 
orators ; and, on the contrary, if it exceed a certain degree, 
it is on the whole painful, whether awakened by the real ob- 
jects of pity, or roused by the exhibitions of the historian or 
of the poet. Indeed, as sense operates more strongly on the 
inind than imagination does, the excess is much more fre- 
quent in the former case tlian in the latter. 

Now, in attempting to give a solution of the difficulty, it 
is plain that all our tlieorists ouglit regularly and properly to 
begin with the former case. If in that, which is the original 
and the simplest, the matter is sufficiently accounted for, it 
IS accounted for in every case, it being the manifest design 
both of painting and of oratory as nearly as possible to pro 
duce the same affections which the very objects representefl 
would have produced in our minds; whereas, though Mr. 
Hume should be admitted to have accounted fully for the 
impression made by the poet and the orator, we are as far as 
ever from the discovery of the cause why pity excited by 
the objects themselves, when it hath no eloquence to recom- 
mend it, is on the whole, if not excessive, a pleasant emo- 

Ihil if this celol)ralod writer intended to assert that the dis 


<*overy of the oratory, that is, of the address and ttlents of 
the speaker, is what gives the hearer a pleasure, which^ 
mingling' itself with pity, fear, indignation, converts the 
whole, as he expresses it. into one strong movement, which 
is altogether delightful — if this be his sentiment, he hath in- 
deed advanced something extraordinary and entirely new. 
And that this is his opinion appears, I think, obliquely from 
the expressions which he useth. "The genius required, the 
art employed, the judgment displayed, along with the force 
of expression and beauty of oratorical numbers, diffuse the 
highest satisfaction on the audience." Again : " The impulse 
or vehemence arising from sorrow, compassion, indignation, 
receives a new direction from the sentiments of beauty." 
If this, then, be a just solution of the difficulty, and the de- 
tection of the speaker's talents and address be necessary to 
render the hearer susceptible of this charming sorrow, this 
delightful anguish, how grossly have all critics and rhetori- 
cians been deceived hitherto ! These, in direct opposition to 
this curious theory, have laid it down in their rhetorics as a 
fundamental maxim, that " it is essential to the art to con- 
ceal the art;"* a maxim, too, which, in their estimation, the 
orator, in no part of his province, is obliged to such a scru- 
pulous observance of as in the pathetic. f In this the speak- 
er, if he would prove successful, must fnake his subject to- 
tally engross the attention of the hearers, insomuch that he 
liimself, his genius, his art, his judgment, his richness of lan- 
guage, his harmony of numbers, are not minded in the least.J 
Never does the orator obtain a nobler triumph by his elo- 
quence than when his sentiments, and style, and order ap- 
pear so naturally to arise out of the subject, that every hear- 
er is inclined to think he could not have either thought or 
spoken otherwise himself, when everything, in short, is ex- 
hibited in such manner, 

' As all might hope to imitatp- with ease ; 
Vet while they strive the same success to gain, 
Should (iud their labour and their hopes in vam."ij — Francis. 

As to the harmony of immbers, it ought no farther to be thi 

» Artis est celare artem. 

f " Effugienda igitur in hac prsccipufe parte omnis calliditatis suspicio : ni- 
hil videatur lictuin, nihil solicitum : omnia potius a causa, quam ab oratore 
profecta credanlnr. Sed hoc pali non possumus, et perire artem putamus, 
nisi appareat : cum desinat ars esse, si apparet." — Quint., InsC, lib. iv., 
cap. ii. 

X " Ubi res agitur, et vera dimicatio est, ultimus sit famae locus. Prop 
terea non debet quisquam, ubi maxima renim momenta versantur, de ver- 
bis esse solicitus. Neque hoc eo pertinet, ut in his nuUus sit omatus, sod 
Uti pressior et severior, minus confessus, praecipu6 ad materiam accomino 
d«tus." — Quint. 

" Ut sibi quivis 
Speret idem ; sudet multum. fruslraque laboret. 
A.U3US idem." — Hor., De Arit Poet. 


speaker's care than that he may avoid an offensive dissu> 
nance or halting in his periods, which, bj* hnrting tiie ear, ab- 
stracts the attention from the subject, and must, by conse- 
quence, serve to obstruct the effect. Yet even this, it may 
be safely averred, will not tend half so much to counterac*. 
the end as an elaborate harmony or a flowing elocution, which 
carries along with it the evident marks of address and study.* 
Our author proceeds all along on the supposition that there 
are two distinct effects produced by the eloquence on the hear- 
ers : one the sentiment of beauty, or (as he explains it more 
particularly) of the harmony of oratorical numbers, of the 
exercise of these noble talents, genius, art, and judgment ; 
the other the passion v. Inch the speaker purposeth to raise 
in their minds. He maintains, that when the first predomi- 
nates, the mixture of the two effects becomes exceedingly 
pleasant, and the reverse when the second is superior. At 
least, if this is not what he means to assert and vindicate, I 
despair of being- able to assign a meaning to the following 
expressions : "'I'he {^-enius required to paint, the art employ 
ed in collecting, the judgment displayed in disposing, diffuse 
the highest satisfaction on the audience, and excite the most 
dciiglilful movements. By this means the of the 
melancholy passions is not only overpowered and effaced by 
something stronger of an opposite kind, but the whole move- 
ment of those [)assions is converted into pleasure, and swells 
the delight which the eloquence raises in us." Again: "The 
impulse or vehemence arising from sorrow receives a new 
direction from the sentimenis of beauty. The latter being 
the predominant emotion, seize the whole mind, and convert 
the former — " Again: "The soul being at the same time 
roused with passion, and charmed by eloquence, feels on the 
whole — " And in the paragraph immediately succeeding, 
" It is thus iho fiction of tragedy softens the passion, by an 
infusion of a new feeling, not nierely by weakening or di- 
minishing the sorrow." Now to me it is manifest that this 
notion of two distinguishable, and even opposite effects, as 
he terms them, produced in the hearer by the eloquence, is 
perfectly imaginary ; that, on the contrary, whatever charm 
or fascinstion, if you please to call it so, there is in the pity 
excited by the orator, it ariseth not from any extrinsic senti- 
•iicnt of beauty blended with it, but intimately from its own 

•■ " Commoveatume quisqnam ejus fortuna, quern tumiduin ac sui jac 
tznlem, et anibiliosum institorem eloqnenliae in ancipiti forte videat ? Non 
iino oderit reruin verba ^ auxiiiin de Hima inaenii, et cui esse 
discrlo vacet." — Quint., I. xi., cap. i. " Ubi vcro alrocilale, invidia, mise- 
ratiorie pugnandmn est, qnis ferat conlraposiiis et pariter cadenlibus, et 
consimilibus, irasceiilem, lleiUem, rojiaiiiein '. ci5in in his rebus cura verbo- 
rum deroget affcctibus fidem : ct ubicunque ars ostentatur, Veritas ab«ssfl 
vidfeMur " — Can. in 


namre, from .hose passions which pity necessarily assoc'ates 
jr, I should rather say, includes. 

But do we not often hear people speak of eloquence aa 
moving them greatly, and pleasing them highly at the same 
lime t Nothing more common. But these are never under- 
stood by them as two original, separate, and independent 
effects, but as essentially connected. Push your inquiries 
nut ever so little, and you will find all agree in affirming that 
It is by being moved, and by that solely, that they are pleased • 
in pliiloso])hical strictness, therefore, the pleasure is the im 
mediate effect of the passion, and the passion the immediate 
effect of the eloquence. 

But is there, then, no pleasure in contemplating the beautj 
of composition, the richness of fancy, the power of numbers, 
and the energy of expression] There is undoubtedly. But 
BO far is this pleasure from commixing with the pathos, and 
giving a jirection to it, that, on the contrary, they seem to be 
in a great measure incompatible. Such, indeed, is the pleas- 
ure which the artist or the critic enjoys, who can coolly and 
deliberately survey the whole ; upon whose passions the art 
of the speaker hath li4tle or no influence, and that purely for 
this reason, because he discovers thnt art. The bulk of hear 
ers know no farther than to approve the man who affects them, 
who speaks to their heart, as they very properly and emphat- 
ically term it, and to commend the performance by which 
this is accomplished. But how it is accomplished they nei- 
ther give themselves the trouble to consider nor attempt to 

Paut IV. The Fourth Hypothesis. 

Lastly, to mention only one other hypothesis : there are 

' The inquiry contained in this chapter was written long before I had an 
opportunity of perusing a very ingenious English Commentary and Notes 
on Horace's Epistles to the Pisos and to Augustus, \n which Mr. Hume'g 
sentiments on this subject are occasionally criticised. The opinions of that 
commentator, in regard to Mr. Hume's tfieory, coincide in everything ma. 
lerial with mine. This author considers the question no farther than it re 
lales *o the representations of tragedy, and hath, by confining his view tfc 
the single point, been led to lay greater stress on Fontenelie's hypothesis 
than, for the solution of the general phenomenon, it is entitled to. It is 
very true that our theatrical entertainments commonly exhibit a degree ot 
distress which we could not bear to witness in the objects represented. 
Consequently, the consideration that it is but a picture, and not the origins. 
— a fictitious exhibition, and not the reality, which we contemplate, is es 
sential for rendering the whole, I may say, supportable as well as pleasant. 
But even in this case, when it is necessary to our repose to consider the 
scenical misery before us as mere illusion, we are generally belter pleased 
io consider the things represented as genuine fact. It requires, indeed, but 
i farther degree of affliction to make us even pleased to think that the copy 
never had any archetype in n-itiire. But when this is the case, we may 
truly say that the poet hath ixceeded, and wronght up pity to a kind of 



who maintain that compassion is " an example of unniixea 
selfishness and malignity," and may be " resolved into that 
power of imagination by which we apply the misfortunes ol 
others to ourselves:" that we are said "to pity no longer 
than we fancy ourselves to suffer, and to be pleased only by 
reflecting that our sufferings are not real ; thus indulging a 
dream of distress, from which we can awake whenever we 
please, to exult in our security, and enjoy the comparison o( 
the fiction with truth."* 

This is no other than the antiquated doctrine of the philos- 
opher of Malmesbury, rescued from oblivion, to which it had 
been fast descending, and republished with improvements. 
Hobbes, indeed, thought it a sufficient stretch, in order to 
render the sympathetic sorrow purely selfish, to define it 
" imagination or fiction of future calamit)' to ourselves, pro- 
ceeding from the sense of another's calamity."! But in the 
first quotation we have another kind of fiction, namely, that 
we are at present the very sufferers ourselves, the identical 
persons whose cases are exhibited as being so deplorable, and 
whose calamities we so sincerely lament. There were some 
things hinted in the beginning of the chapter in relation to tins 
paradoxical conceit, which I should not have thought it ne- 
cessary to resume, had it not been adopted by a late author, 
whose periodical essays seemed to entitle him to the char- 
acter of an ingenious, moral, and instructive writer ;| for 
though he hath declined entering formally into the debate, 
he hath sufficiently shown his. sentiments on this article, and 
hath endeavoured indirectly to support them. 

I doubt not that it will appear to many of my readers a8 
equally silly to refute this hypothesis and to defend it. No- 
thing could betray reasonable men into such extravagances 
but the dotage with which one is affected towards every ap- 
pendage of a favourite system. And this is an appendage of 
that .s)'stem which derives all the affections and springs of 
action in the human mind from self-love. In almost all sys- 
tem-builders of every denomination, there is a vehement de- 
sire of simplifying their principles, and reducing all to one. 
Hence in medicine, the passion for finding a catholicon, or 
cure of all diseases; and in chemistry, for discoveiing the 
true alcahest, or universal dissolvent. Nor have our moral- 
ists entirely escaped the contagion. One reduceth all the 
rirtues to prudence, and is ready to make it clear as sunshine 
liat there neither is nor can be another source of moral good, 
a right-conducted self-love ; another is equally confident that 
all the virtues are but different modifications of disinterested 
benevolence ; a third will demonstrate to you that veracity is 

♦ Adventurer, No. 110. t Hum. Nat.,chrp. ix , sect, i 



the whole duty of a man ; a fourth, witli more ingel.aity, and 
much greater appearance of reason, assures you that the true 
system of ethics is comprised in one word, sympatny. 

But to the point in hand : it appears a great objection to 
the selfish system, that in pity we are affected with a real 
sorrow for the sufferings of others, or, at least, that men have 
universally understood this to be the case, as appears from 
the very words and phrases expressive of this emotion to be 
found in all known languages. But to one who has thoroughly 
imbibed the principles and spirit of a philosopliic sect, which 
hath commonly as violent an appetite for mystery (though un- 
der a different name, for with the philosopher it is a paradox) 
as any religious sect whatever, how paltry must an objection 
appear which hath nothing to support it but the conviction of 
all mankind, tliose only excepted whose minds have been pre 
vented by scholastic sophistry ! 

It is remarkable, that though so many have contended that 
some fiction of the inuigination is absolutely necessary to the 
production of pity, and though the examples of this emotion 
are so frequent (I hope in the theorists themselves no less 
than in others) as to give ample scope for examination, they 
are so little agreed what this fiction is. Some contend only, 
that in witnessing tragedy, one is under a sort of momenta- 
ry deception, which a very little reflection can correct, and 
imagines that he is actually witnessing those distresses and 
.niseries which are only represented in borrowed characters, 
and that the actors are the very persons whom they exhibit. 
This s^ipposition, I acknowledge, is the most admissible ol 
all. That children and simple people, who are utter stran- 
gers to theatrical amusements, are apt at first to be deceived 
in this manner, is undeniable. That therefore, through the 
magical power (if I may call it so) of natural and animated 
action, a transient illusion somewhat similar may be produ- 
ced in persons of knowledge and experience, I will not lake 
upon me to controvert. But this hypothesis is not necessa- 
rily connected with any particular theory of the passions. 
The persons for whom we grieve, whether the real objects, 
or only the representatives mistaken for them, are still other 
persons, and not ourselves. Besides, this was never intend- 
ed to account but for the degree of emotion in one particular 
case only. 

Others, therefore, who refer everything to self, will have 
it, that by a fiction of the mind we instantly conceive some 
future and similar calamity as coming upon ourselves, and 
that it is solely this conception and this dread which call forth 
all our sorrow and our tears. Others, not satisfied with this, 
maintain boldly that we conceive ourselves to be the per- 
sons suffering the miseries related or represented, at the very 
instant that our pity is raised. When nature is dcscrlpd bv 


Wi, it is no wonder that we should lose our way in the devi 
O'JS tracks of imagination, and not know where to settle. 

The first would say, " When I see Garrick in the charac- 
ter of King Lear, in the utmost agony of distress, I am so 
transported with the passions raised in my breast that I quite 
forget the tragedian, and imagine that my eyes are fixed on 
that much-injured and most miserable monarch." Says the 
second, '' I am not in the least liable to so gross a blunder : 
but I cannot help, in consequence of the representation, be- 
ing struck with the impression that I am soon to be in tiie 
same situation, and to be used in the like ingratitude and bar- 
barity." JSays the third, " The case is still worse with me ; 
for I conceive myself, and not the player, to be that wretched 
man at the very time tltat he is acted. I fancy that I am ac- 
tually in the midst oi the storm, suffering all his anguish , 
that my d ingliters have turned me out of doors, and treated 
nie witli such unheard-of cruelty and injustice." It is ex- 
ceedingly lucky that there do not oftencr follow terrible con- 
sequences from tliese misconceptions. It will be said, " They 
are transient, and quickly cured by recollection." But, how- 
ever transient, if they really exist, thej' must exist for some 
time. Now if, unhappily, a man had two of his daughters 
silting near him at liie very instant he were under this delu- 
sion, and if, by a very natural and consequential fiction, lie fan- 
cied them to be (^oneril and Regan, the efi"ecls might be fatal 
to the ladies, though they were the most dutiful children in 
the world. 

It haih never yet been denied (for it is impossible to say 
what will be denied) that pity influences a person to contrib- 
ute to relieve the object when it is in his power. But if there 
is a mistake in the object, there must of necessity be a mistake 
in the direction of the relief. For instance, you see a man 
perishing with hunger, and your compassion is raised ; now 
you will pity no longer, say these acute reasoners, than you 
fancy yourself to suffer. You yourself properly are the sole 
object of your own pity, and as you desire to relieve the per- 
son only whom you pity, if there be any food within your 
reach, you will no doubt devour it voraciously, in order to al- 
ia}' the famine which you fancy you are enduring; but you 
will not give one morsel to the wretch who reallj' needs your 
aid, but who is by no means tlie object of your regret, for 
whom you can feel no compunction, and with whose dis- 
,ress (which is quite a foreign matter to you) it is impossible 
you should be affected, especially when under the power ol 
a passion consisting of unmixed selfishness and malignity 
F^'or though, if you did not pity him, you would, on cool re- 
tlcction, give him some aid, perhaps from principle perhaps 
from example, or perhaps from habit, unluckily this accursed 


pity, this unmixed malignant selfishness interposeth, to shut 
your heart against him, and to obstruct the pious purpose. 

I know of no way of eluding this objection but one, which 
is, indeed, a very easy way. It is to introduce another fic- 
tion of the imagination, and to say that when this emotion is 
raised, I lose all consciousness of my own existence and 
identity, and fancy that the pitiable object before me is my 
very self; and that the real I, or what I formerly mistook 
for myself, is some other body, a mere spectator of my mis- 
cry, or perhaps nobody at all. Thus unknowingly 1 may 
contribute to his relief, when under the strange illusion which 
makes me fancy that, instead of giving to another, I am ta- 
king to myself. But if the man be scrupulously honest, he 
will certainly restore to me when I am awake what I give 
him unintentionally in my sleep. 

That such fictions may sometimes take place in madness 
which almost totally unhinges our mental faculties, I will 
not dispute ; but that such are the natural operations of the 
passions in a sound state, when the intellectual powers are 
unimpaired, is what no man would have either conceived or 
advanced that had not a darling hypothesis to support. And 
by such arguments, it is certain that every hypothesis what- 
ever may equally be supported. Suppose I have taken it into 
my head to write a theory of the mind ; and, in order to give 
unity and simplicity to my system, as well as to recommend 
it by the grace of novelty, 1 have resolved to deduce all the 
actions, all the pursuits, and all the passions of men from 
self-hatred, as the common fountain. If to degrade human 
nature be so great a recommendation as we find it is to many 
speculators, as well as to all atheists and fanatics, who happen 
on this point, I know not how, to be most cordially united, the 
theory now suggested is by no means deficient in that sort of 
merit from which one might expect to it the very best recep- 
tion. Self-love is certainly no vice, however justly the want 
of love to our neighbour be accounted one ; but if anything 
can be called vicious, self-hatred is undoubtedly so. 

Let it not be imagined that nothing specious can be urged 
in favour of this hypothesis : what else, it may be pleaded, 
could induce the miser to deny himself not only the com- 
forts, but even almost the necessaries of life, to pine for want 
in the midst of plenty, to live in unintermitted anxiety and 
terror] All the world sees that it is not to procure his own 
enjoyment, which he invariably and to the last repudiates. 
And can any reasonable person be so simple as to believe 
that it is for the purpose of leaving a fortune to his heir, a 
man whom he despises, for whose deliverance from perdi 
tion he would not part with half a crown, and whom of all 
mankind, next to himself, he hates the most ? What else 
could induce the sensualist to squander his all in dissip^tioa 



and Jebauchery ; to rush on ruin certain and foreseen 1 You 
call it pleasure. But is he ignorant that his pleasures are 
more than ten times counterbalanced by the plagues and 
even torments which they bring 1 Does the conviction, or 
even the experience of this, deter him ? dii the contrary, 
with what steady perseverance, with what determined reso- 
lution, doth he proceed in his career, not intimidated by the 
haggard forms which stare him in the face, poverty and in- 
famy, disease and death ! What else could induce the man 
who is reputed covetous, not of money, but of fame — that is, 
nf wind — to sacrifice his tranquillity, and almost all the en- 
joyments of life ; to spend his days and nights in fruitless 
disquietude and endless care 1 Has a bare name, think you, 
an empty sound, such inconceivable charms ^ Can a mere 
nothing serve as a counterpoise to solid and substantial good ? 
Are we not rather imposed on by appearances when we con- 
clude this to be his motive? Can we be senseless enough 
to imagine that it is tlie bubble reputation (which, were it 
anything, a dead man surely cannot enjoy) that the soldier 
IS so infatuated as to seek even in the cannon's mouth 1 
Are not these, therefore, the various ways of self-destroying, 
to which, according to their various tastes, men are prompt- 
ed by the same universal principle of self-hatred? 

If you should insist on certain phenomena which appear to 
be irreconcilable to my hypothesis, I think I am provided 
with an answer. You urge our readiness to resent an affront 
or injury, real or imagined, which we receive, and which 
ought to gratify instead of provoking us, on the supposition 
lliat we hate ourselves. But may it not be retorted, that its 
being a gratification is that which excites our resentment, 
inasmuch as we are enemies to every kind of self-indul- 
gence ? If this answer will not suffice, I have another which 
is excellent. It lies in tlie definition of the word revenge. 
Revenge, I pronounce, may be justly " deemed an example 
of unmixed sclf-abhorrcnce and benignit}^ and may be re- 
solved into that power of imagination by wliich we apply the 
sufferings that we inflict on others to ourselves ; we are said 
to wreak our vengeance no longer than we fancy ourselves 
to sulfer, and to be satiated by reflecting that the sufferings 
of others are not really ours; that we have been but indul- 
ging a dream of self-punishment, from whicii, when we awake 
and discover tlic fiction, our anger instantly subsides, and we 
arc meek as lambs." Is this extravagant? Compare it. I 
pray you, with the preceding explication of compassion, to 
whicli it is a perfect counterpart. Consider seriously, and 
you will fnid that it is not in tlie smallest degree more mani- 
fest that another, and not ourselves, is the object of our re- 
sentment when wo are angry, than it is that another, and not 
ourselves, is the object of our compassion when we are 


moved with pity. Both, indeed, have a self-eviden:;e in them 
which, M'hile our minds remain unsophisticated by the dog- 
matism of system, extorts from us an unlimited assent. 


THE author's hypothesis ON THIS SUBJECT. 

Where so many have failed of success, it may be thought 
presumptuous to attempt a decision. But despondency in 
regard to a question whic i seems to fall within the reach of 
our faculties, and is entirely subjected to our observation and 
experience, must appear to the inquisitive and philosophic 
mind a still greater fault than even presumption. The latter 
may occasion the introduction of a false theory, which must 
necessarily come under the review and correction of suc- 
ceeding philosophers. And the detection of error proves 
often instrumental to the discovery of truth ; whereas the 
former quashes curiosity altogether, and influences one im- 
plicitly to abandon an inquiry as utterly undeterminable. I 
shall, therefore, now offer a few observations concerning the 
passions, which, if rightly apprehended and weighed, will, I 
hope, contribute to the solution of the present question. 

My first observation shall be, that almost all the simple 
passions of which the mind is susceptible may be divided into 
two classes, the pleasant and the painful. It is, at the same 
time, acknowledged that the pleasures and the pains created 
by the diff'erent passions differ considerably from one another 
both in kind and degree. Of the former class are love, joy, 
hope, pride, gratitude ; of the latter, hatred, grief, fear, shame, 
anger. Let it be remarked, that by the name pride in the 
first class (which I own admits a variety of acceptations), no 
more is meant here than the feeling which we have on ob- 
taining the merited approbation of other men, in which sense 
it stands in direct opposition to shame in the second class, or 
'.he feeling which we have when conscious of incurring the 
deserved blame of others. In like manner, gratitude, or the 
resentment of favour, is opposed to anger, or the resentment 
of injury. To the second class I might have added desire 
and aversion, which give the mind some uneasiness or dis- 
satisfaction with its present state ; but these are often the 
occasion of pleasure, as they are the principal spurs to ac- 
tions, and perhaps, more than any other passion, relieve the 
mind from that languor which, according to that just remark 
of Abbe du Bos, is perfectly oppressive. Besides, as they 
are perpetually accompanied witli some degree of either hope 
OY fear, generally wi'h both, they are either pleasant or pain- 
ful, as the one or the other preponderates. For these reasons, 
they may be consid< red as in themselves of an indilTerent or 
'nfermediate kind. 


The second observation is, t'.at there is an attracti'M oi 
ussnciation among the passio.i?, as well as among tlie i« .as 
of the mind. Rarely any passion comes alone. To inve^ti- 
gate the laws of this attrxotion would be indeed a matter of 
curious inquiry, but it f" jth not fall within the limits of the 
present question. Ab osl all the other affections attract or 
excite desire or aver on of some sort or other. The pas- 
sions which seem to lave the least influence on these are joy 
and grief; and of tiC two, joy, I believe, will be acknowl- 
edged to have less of the attractive power than grief. Joy 
is the end of desire and the completion of hope ; therefore, 
when attained, it not only excludes occasion for the others, 
but seems, for a while at least, to repel them, as what would 
give an impertinent interruption to the pleasure resulting 
from the contemplation of present felicity, with which the 
mind, under the nilluence of joy, is engrossed. Grief hath a 
like tendency. When the mind is overwhelmed by this 
gloomy passion, it resists the instigations of desire, as what 
would again, to no purpose, rouse its activity; it disdains 
hope, it even loathes it as a vain and delusive dream. The 
first suggestions of these [lassions seem but as harbingers to 
the culling recollection of former llatlering prospects, once 
too fondly entertained, now uttcly extinct, and succeeded by 
an insupportable and irremediable disappointment, which ev- 
ery recollection serves but to iiggravate. Nay, how unac- 
countable soever it may appear, tiie mind seems to have a 
mournful satisfaction in being allowed to indidge its anguish, 
and to immerse itself wholly in its own alllictions. But this 
can be affirmed of sorrow only in the extreme. When it be- 
gins to subside, or when origmally, but in a weak degree, it 
leads the mind to seek relief from desire, and hope, and oth 
er passions. Love naturally associates to it benevolence 
which is one species of desire, for here no more is meant bj 
it than a desire of the happiness of the person loved. Ha- 
tred as naturally associates malevolence or malice, which is 
the desire of evil to the person hated.* 

■* The ambiguity, and even penury of all languages, in relation to our 
internal feelings, make it very uifHcult, in treating of them, to preserve at 
once perspicuity and accuracy. Benevolence is sometimes used, perhaps 
with little variation from its most common import, for charity or universal 
love ; and love itself will be thought by some to be properly defined by the 
desire or wish of the happiness c' its object. As to the first, it is enough 
that I have assigned the precise meaning in which 1 use the term ; and in 
regard to the second, those who are duly attentive to what passes within 
their own breasts will be sensible Ihatby love, in the strictest acceptation, ia 
meant a certain pleasurable emotion excited in the mind by a siiil'ible ob 
ject, to which the desire of the happiness ol the object is generally conse- 
quent. The felicity of the object may, however, be such as to leave iic 
room for any desire or wish of ours in regard to it. This holds particular 
ly in our love of God. Besides, there may be s desire of the happiness of 
others, arising fr( m very different causes, whf re there is noihmg ol ihai 


IMy third observation is, that pain of every kind generally 
makes a deeper impression on the imagination than pleasure 
docs, and is longer retained by the memory. It is a common 
remark of every people and of every age, and consequently 
hath some foundation in human nature, that bcnetits are 
sooner forgotten than injuries, and favours than affronts. 
Those who are accustomed to attend the theatre will be sen- 
sil)]e that the plots of the best tragedies which they have 
witnessed are better remembered by them than those of the 
most celeorated comedies. And, indeed, everybody that re- 
flects may be satisfied that no story takes a firmer hold of 
the memory than a tale of wo. In civil history as well as 
in biography, it is tlie disastrous and not the joyous events 
which are often recollected and retailed. 

The fourth observation is, that from a group of passions 
(if I may so express myself) associated together, and having 
the same object, sonic of which are of the pleasant, others 
of the painful kind — if the pleasant predominate, there ariseth 
often a greater and a more durable pleasure to tlie mind than 
would result from these if alone and unmixed. That the case 
is so will, I believe, on a careful inquiry, be found to be a 
matter of experience ; how it happens to be so, I am afraid 
human sagacity will never be able to investigate. 

This observation holds especially when the emotions and 
affections raised in us are derived from sympathy, and have 
not directly self for the object. Sympathy is not a passion, 
but that quality of the soul which renders it susceptible of al- 
most any passion, by comnumication from the bosom of anoth- 
er. It is by sympathy we rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep 
loith (hem that weep. This facultj', however, doth not act with 
equal strength in these opposite cases, but is much weaker 
in the first than in the second. It would, perhaps, be easier 
to assign the intention of nature in this difference than the 
cause of the difference. The miserable need the aid and 
fiympalliy of others ; the happy do not. I must farther ob- 
^erve on the subject, what I believe was hinted once already, 
that sympathy may be greatly strengthened or weakened by 
the influence of connected passions. Thus love associates to 
It benevolence, and both give double force to sympathy. Ha- 
tred, on the contrary, associates to it malice, and destroys 

There are. consequently, several reasons why a scene of 

eentiment of feeling: which is strictly called love. I own, at the same time^ 
that the term love is also often used to denote simply benevolence or good. 
will ; as when we are commanded to love all men, known and unknown, 
pood and bad, friendly and injurious. To that tender emotion which qual- 
ities supposed amiable alone can excite, the precept surely doth not extend 
These things I thought it necessary to observe, in order to prevent mistak* 
in a case which requires so much precision. 


pure unmixed joj in any work of genius cannot gvve a greai 
f. r lasting pleasure to the mind. First, sympathetic joy ia 
much fainter and more transient than sympathetic grief, and 
tliey are generally the sympathetic passions which are in- 
fused by poets, orators, painters, and historians ; secondly, 
joy is the least attractive of all the affections. It perhaps 
can never properly be said to associate to it desire, the great 
spring of action. The most we can say is, that when it be- 
gins to subside, it again gives place to desire, this passion be- 
ing of such a nature as that it can hardly, for any time, be 
banished from the soul. Hence it is that tiie joy which has 
no other foundation but sympathy quickly tires the mind and 
runs into satiety. Hence it is also that dramatic writers, 
and even romance writers, make a scene of pure joy always 
the last scene of the piece, and but a short one. It may just 
be mentioned, thirdly, not, indeed, as an argument (for of its 
weakness in this respect I am very sensibh ), but as an illus- 
tration from analogy, that everything in nature is heightened 
and set off by its contrary, which, by giving scope for com- 
parison, enhances every excellence. The colours in paint- 
ing acquire a double lustre from the .shades; ti.e harmony in 
music is preatly improved by a judicious mixture of discords. 
The whole conduct of life, were it necessary, might exem 
plify the position. A mixture of pain, then, seems to be of 
consequence to give strength and stability to pleasure. 

The fifth observation is, that under the name pity may be 
iMckuied all the emotions excited by tragedJ^ In common 
speech, all, indeed, are included under this name that are ex- 
cited i)y that species of eloquence which is denominated the 
pathetic. The passions moved by tragedy have been com- 
monly said to be pity Ai d (error. This enumeration is more 
popular than philosophica. oven though adopted by the Sta- 
gy rite himself; for what is pity but a participation by sym- 
pathy in the woes of others, and the feeliugs naturally con 
sequent upon them, of whatever kind they be, their fears as 
ivell as sorrows! whereas this way of conira-distinguishiug 
terror from pity would make one who knew nothing of tra- 
gedy but from the definiiion, imagine that it were intended 
to make us compassionate others in trouble, and dread mis 
chief to ourselves. If this were really the case, I believe 
there are few or none who would find any pleasure in this 
species of entertainment. Of this there occurs an example, 
when, as hath sometimes happened, in the midst of the per- 
formance the audience are alarmed with the sudden report 
thst the house hath taken fire, or when they hear a noiso 
winch makes them suspect that the roof or walls are falling 
Then, indeed, terror stares in every countenance; but such 
a terror as gives no degree of pleasure, and is so far from 
coalescing with th ) passions raised by the tragedy, that, on 


iJif- contrary, it expels them altogether, and leaves not m the 
mind, for some time at least, another idea or refleciion but 
what concerns personal safety. 

On the other hand, if all the sympathetic affections excited 
by the theatrical representation were to be severally enu- 
merated, I cannot see why hope, indignation, love and hatred, 
gratitude and resentment, should not be included as well as 
fear. To account, then, for the pleasure which we find in 
pity, is, in a great measure, to give a solution of the question 
under review. 1 do not say that this will satisfy in every 
case. On the contrary, there are many cases in which tho 
Abbe du Bos's account above recited, of the pleasure arising 
from the agitation and fluctuation of the passions, is the only 
solution that can be given. 

My sixth and last observation on this head is, that pity is 
not a simple passion, but a group of passions strictly united 
by association, and, as it were, blended by centring in the 
same object. Of these some are pleasant, some painful ; 
commonly the pleasant preponderate. It hath been remarked 
already, that love attracts benevolence, benevolence quickens 
sympathy. The same attraction takes place inversely, though 
not, perhaps, with equal strength. Sympathy engages be- 
nevolence, and benevolence love. That benevolence, or the 
habit of wishing happiness to another, from whatever mo- 
tive it hath originally sprung, will at length draw in love, 
might be proved from a thousand instances. 

In the party divisions which obtain in some countries, it 
often happens that a man is at first induced to take a side 
purely from a motive of interest ; for some time, from this 
motive solely, he wishes the success of the party with which 
he is embarked. From a habit of wishing this, he will con- 
tinue to wish it when, by a change of circumstances, his own 
interest is no longer connected with it ; nay, which is more 
strange, he will even contract such a love and attachment to 
the party as to promote their interest in direct opposition to 
his own. That commiseration or sympathy in wo hath still 
a stronger tendency to engage our love is evident. 

This is the only rational account that can be given why 
mothers of a humane disposition generally love most the 
Bicklicst child in the family, thougrh perhaps far from being 
the loveliest in respect either of temper or of other qualities. 
riie habit of commiseration habituates them to the feeling and 
exertion of benevolence. Benevolence habitually felt and 
exerted confirms and augmv^nts their love. " Nothing," says 
Mr. Hume,* "endears so much a friend as sorrow for his 
death. "The pleasure of his company has not so powerful an 
influence." Distress to the pitying eye diminishes every 

♦ Essay on Tragedy. 


fault, and sets off every good quality in the brightest coiount 
Nor is it a less powerful advocate for the mistress than foi 
the friend : often does the single circumstance of misfortune 
subdue all resentment of former coldness and ill usage, and 
make a languid and dying passion revive and flame out with 
a violence which it is impossible any longer to withstand. 
Everybody acknowledges that beauty is never so irresistible 
a* ji tears. Distress is commonly sufficient with those who 
aro not very hard-hearted or pitiless (for these words are 
nearly of the same import) to make even enmity itself relent. 

There are, then, in ;?j7y, these three different emotions: 
first, commiseralion, purely painful ; secondly, benevolence, or 
a desire of the relief and happiness of the object pitied — a 
passion, as was already observed, of the intermediate kind ; 
thirdly, love, in which is always implied one of the noblest 
and most exquisite pleasures whereof the soul is susceptible, 
and which is itself, in most cases, sufficient to give a coun- 
terpoise of pleasure to the whole. 

For the farther confirmation of this theory, let it be re 
marked, that orators and poets, in order to strengthen this 
association and union, are at pains to adorn the character of 
him for whom they would engage our pity with every amia 
ble quality which, in a consistency with probability, they can 
crowd into it. On the contrary, when the cliaracter is hate- 
ful, the person's misfortunes arc unpilied. Sometimes they 
even occasion a pleasure of a very different kind, namely, 
that which the mind naturally takes in viewing the just pun- 
ishment of demerit. When the character hath such a mix 
ture of good and odious qualities as that we can neither with 
hold our commiseration nor bestow our love, the mind is 
ihcMi torn opposite ways at once by passions which, instead 
of uniting, repel one another. Ilence the piece becomes 
shocking and disgustful. Such, to a certain degree, in my 
judgment, the tragedy of Venice Preserved, wherein the hero, 
notwithstanding several good qualities, is a villain and a trai- 
tor, will appear to every well-disposed mind. All the above 
cases, if attended to, will be found exactly to tally with the 
iiypothesis here suggested. 

All the answer, then, which I am able to produce upon the 
v'hole, and which results from the foregoing observations, ia 
this : The principal pleasure in pity ariseth from its own na^ 
tuie, or from the nature of those passions of which it is com 
pounded, and not from anything extrinsic or adventitious 
The tender emotions of love which enter into the composi 
tion, sweeten the commiseration or sympathetic sorrow: the 
commiseration gives a stability to those emotions, with 
wf.-.cii otherwise the m\ni would soon be cloyed, when di- 
rerted towards a person imaginary, unknown, or with whom 
wo are totally unacquainted. The very benevolence or wish 


pf contributing to his relief affords an occupation to the 
thoughts vvhicli agreeably rouses them. It impels the mind 
to devise expedients by which the unhappy person (if our 
pity is excited by some present calamitous incident) may be, 
or (if it is awakened by the art of the poet, the orator, or the 
historian) might have been, relieved from his distress. Yet 
the whole movement of the combined affections is not con- 
verted into pleasure ; for though the uneasiness of the mel 
ancholy passions be overpowered, it is not effaced by some- 
lliing stronger of an opposite kind. 

Mr. Hume, indeed, in his manner of expressing himself on 
this article, hath not observed either an entire uniformity oi 
his usual precision. I should rather say, from some dubious- 
ness in relation to the account he was giving, he seems to 
have, in part, retracted what he had been establishing, and 
thus leaves the reader with an alternative in the decision 
First he tells us that " the whole movement of those [melan- 
choly] passions is converted into pleasure." Afteward, '' the 
laiter [the sentiments of beauty] being the predominant emo- 
tion, seize the whole mind, and convert the former [the im- 
pulse or vehemence arising from sorrow, compassion, indig- 
nation] into themselves ;" he adds, by way of correction, 
'* or, at least, tincture them so strongly as totally to alter 
their nature.'' Again: "The soul feels, on the whole, a 
strong movement, which is altogether delightful." All this, 
I acknowledge, appears to me to be neither sufficiently defi- 
nite nor quite intelligible. 

But, passing that, I shall only subjoin, that the combina- 
tion of the passions in the instance under our examination is 
not like the blending of colours, two of which will produce a 
third, wherein you can discern nothing of the original hues 
united in producing it ; but it rather resembles a mixture of 
tastes, when you are quite sensible of the different savours 
of the ingredients. Thus, blue and yellow mingled make 
green, in which you discover no tint of either; and all the 
colours of the rainbow, blended, constitute a white, which to 
iKe eye appears as simple and original as any of them, and 
perfectly unlike to each. On the other hand, in eating meat 
with salt, for instance, we taste both distinctly ; and though 
the latter singly would be disagreeable, the former is render- 
ed more agreeable by the mixture than it would otherwise 
have been. 

I own, indeed, that certain adventitious circumstances may 
contribute to heighten the effect. But these cannot be re- 
garded as essential to the passion. They occur occasionally 
Some of them actually occur but seldom. Of this sort is the 
satisfaction which ariseth from a sense of our own ease and 
security, compared wit'i the calamity and the danger of an 



" 'Tis jk.aaint safely fo behold from shore 
Thf rolling ship, and hear the tempest roar 
Nol that another's pain is our delight ; 
But pains tmfelt j)rodiice the pleasing sight 
Tis pleasant also to behold from far 
The moving legions mingled in the war."* 

The poet hath hit here on some of the very few circumstan 
ces in which it would be natural to certain tempers, not sure- 
ly the most humane, to draw comfort in the midst of sympa- 
thetic sorrow from such a comparison. The reflection, in 
my opinion, occurs almost only when a very small change 
in external situation, as a change in place, to the distance ol 
a f.)»' furlongs, would put us into the same lamentable cir- 
cumstances which we are commiserating in others. Even 
something of this kind will present itself to our thoughts 
when there is no particular object to demand our pity. A 
man who, in tempestuous weather, sits snug in a close house, 
near a good fire, and hears the wind and rain beating upon the 
roof and windows, will naturally think of his own comfortable 
situation compared willi that of a traveller, who, perhaps, far 
from shelter, is exposed to all the violence of the tempest. 
Hut m such cases, a difference, as I said, in a single acci- 
dental circuMistance, wiiich may happen at any time, is all 
that is necessary to put a man in the same disastrous situa- 
tion wherein he eillier sees or conceives others to be ; and 
the very sliglitness of the circumstance which would have 
been sufficient to reverse the scene, makes him so ready to 
congratulate with liiniscif on his better luck; whereas no- 
thing is less natural, and, I will venture to say, less common 
than such a rcHection, when the differences are many, and of 
a kind which cannot be reckoned merely accidental, as when 
(he calamity is what the person pitying must consider him- 
self as not liable to, or in the remotest hazard of. A man 
who, with the most undissemblcd compassion, bewails the 
wretched and undeserved fate of Dcsdemona, is not apt to 
hink of himself, how fortunate he is in not being the wife of 
a credulous, jealous, and revengeful husband, though perhaps 
a girl who hath lately rejected a suiter of this character will 
reflect with great complacency on the escape she has made. 
Another adventitious source of pleasure is the satisfaction 
that results from the conscious exercise of the humane affec- 
tions, which it is our duty to cherish and improve. I men- 
tion 'his as adventitious, because, though not unnatural, I do 

* " Suave mari magno, terbantibus n^quora ventis, 
E terra magnum alterius spectare laborom. 
Non quia vexari quemquam 'st jucimda vojuptas, 
Sed quibus ipse nnlis careas, quia cernere suave st. 
Suave elum belli cerlamina magna tueri 
Per campos insi ucta. fua sine parte pericli." 

LUCRBT., i , 2 


not imagine that the sensations of sympathetic sorrow^ either 
Tlways or immediately, give rise to this reflection. Chil- 
dren, and even savages, are susceptible of pity, who think no 
more of claiming any merit to themselves on this score than 
they think of claiming merit from their feeling the natural 
ippetites of hunger and thirst. Nay, it is very possible that 
persons may know its power and sweetness too, when, 
through the influence of education and bad example, they 
consider it as a weakness or blemish in their disposition, and, 
•i.s sucli, endeavour to conceal and stifle it. A certain degree 
of civilization seems to be necessary to make us thoroughly 
sensible of its beauty and utility, and, consequently, that it 
ought to be cultivated. Bigotry may teach a man to think 
•nhumanity, in certain circumstances, a virtue ; yet nature 
will reclaim, and may make him, in spile of the dictates of a 
misguided conscience, feel all the tenderness of pity to the 
heretic, who, in his opinion, has more than merited the very 
u'orst that can be inflicted on him. 

I acknowledge that, on the other hand, when the sentiment 
comes generally to prevail that compassion is in itself praise- 
worthy, it may be rendered a source of much more self-sat- 
isfaction to the vainglorious than reasonably it ought to 
yield. Such persons gladly lay hold of every handle which 
serves to raise them in their own esteem ; and I make no 
doubt that several, from this very motive, have exalted this 
principle as immoderately as others have vilified it. Every 
jood man will agree that this is the case when people con- 
sider it as either a veil for their vices, or an atonement for 
the neglect of their duty. For my own part, I am inclined 
to think that those who are most ready to abuse it thus are 
not the most remarkable for any exercise of it by which so- 
ciety can be profited. There is a species of deception in the 
case which it is not beside the purpose briefljf to unravel. 

It hath been observed that sense invariably makes a strong- 
er impression than memory, and memory a stronger than 
imagination ; yet there are particular circumstances which 
appear to form an exception, and to give an efficacy to the 
ideas of imagination beyond what either memory or sense 
can boast. So great is the anomaly which sometimes dis- 
plays itself in human characters, that it is not impossible to 
find persons who are quickly made to cry at seeing a tragedy 
;»r reading a romance which they know to be fictions, anri 
yet are both inattentive and unfeeling in respect to the actua' 
objects of compassion who live in their neighbourhood and 
are daily under their eye. Nevertheless, this is an exception 
from the rule more in appearance than in reality. The cases 
are not parallel : there are certain circumstances which ob- 
tain in the one and have no place in the other, and to these 


peculiarities the difference in the effect is solely imputable. 
What follows will serve fully to explain my meaning. 

Men may be of a selfish, contracted, and even avaricious 
disposition, who are not what we should denominate hard- 
hearted, or insusceptible of sympathetic feeling. Such will 
gladly enjoy the luxury of pity (as Hawkes worth terms it) 
when it nowise interferes with their more powerful passions ; 
that is, when i', comes \maccompanied with a demand upon 
their pockets. With the tragic or the romantic hero orliero- ihey most cordially sympathize, because the only tribute 
which wretches of their dignity exact from them is sighs and 
tears ; and of these their consciences inform them, to their 
inexpressible consolation, that they are no niggards. But 
the case is totally different with living objects. Barren tears 
and sighs will not satisfy these. Hence it is that people's 
avarice, a most formidable adversary to the unhappy, is in- 
terested to prevent their being moved by such, and to make 
them avoid, as much as possible, every opportunity of know 
iiig or seeing them.* But as that cannot always be done: 
as commiseration is attended with benevolence, and as be- 
nevolence itself, if not gratified by our giving relief when it 
is in our power, imbitters the pleasure which would other- 
wise result from pity ; as tlie refusal is also attended with 
self-reproach, a person of such a temper, strongly, and for 
the most part effectually, resists his being moved. He puts 
his ingenuity to the rack in order to satisfy himself that he 
ought not to be aftVcted. He is certain that the person is not 
a proper object of benevolence ; he is convinced that his dis 
tress is more pretended than real ; or, if that cannot be al- 
leged, the man hath surely brought it on himself by his vices, 
therefore he deserves to suffer, and is nowise entitled to oui 
pity ; or at least he makes not a good use of what may char- 
itably, but injudiciously, be bestowed upon him. Such are 
the common shifts by which selfishness eludes the calls of 

♦ In the parable of Ihe compassionate Samaritan, Luke, x., 30, «fcc., this 
disposition to shun the sight of misery, which one is resolved not to re- 
dress, is finely touched in the conduct of the priest and the Levite, who, 
when they espied a person naked, wounded, and almost e.xpiring on the 
road, are said to have passed by on the other side. Indeed, in the account 
given of the Levite in our version, there is something which to me has a 
contradictory appearance. He came and looked on him, and passed by on the 
other side. There is not a vestige of this inconsistency in the original, which 
says simply, iXduv xai tiuv avrtnapriXdcv, the meaning of which plainly is, 
"travelling that way, and seeing one in this wretched plight, he kept on 
the other !^ide of the road, and passed on." In such a case, a man who ia 
not quite obdurate would avoid the cutting reflection that he knows any- 
thing of the matter; and though he must be conscious that he knew a lit- 
tie, and might have known more if he would, he is glad to gloss his inhu- 
manity ever, to himself with soree pretext of hurry or thoiighilessnei^s, oi 
anything that may conceal the raked truth, a truth which he is as av/ 
to discover in himself as he is tc see in another the misery which hp u 
terinined not to reliev*^ 


fiuiiuinity, and chooses lo reserve all its worthless stock of 
pity for fictitious objects, or for those wlio. in respect of time, 
or place, or eminence, are beyond its reach. 

For these reasons, I am satisfied that compassion alone, 
especially that displayed on occasion of witnessing public 
spectacles, is at best but a very weak evidence of philan 
thropy. The only proof that is entirely unequivocal is actu- 
al beneficence, when one seeks out the real objects of com- 
miseration, not as a matter of self-indulgence, but in order to 
bring relief to those who need it, to give hope to the despond- 
ing, and comfort to the sorrowful ; for the sake of which one 
endures the sight of wretchedness, when, instead of giving 
pleasure, it distresseth every feeling heart. Such, houever, 
enjoy at length a luxury far superior to that of pity, the god- 
like luxury of dispelling grief, communicating happiness, £jn<i 
doing good 



BOOK il 




Eloquence hath alwa3's been considered, and very justly, 
ds having a particular connexion with language. ) It is the 
intention of eloquence to convey our sentiments into the 
minds of others, in order to produce a certain effect upon 
them. Language is the only vehicle by which this convey- 
ance can be made. The art of speaking, then, is not less 
necessary to the orator than the art of thinking. Without 
the latter, the former could not have existed ; without the for- 
mer, the latter would be ineffective./ Every tongue whatever 
is founded in use or custom, 

" Whose arbitrary sway 
Words and the forms of language must obey."* 


Language is purely a species of fashion (for this holds 
rqually of every tongue), in which, by the general but tacit 
consent of the people of a particular state or country, certain 
sounds come to be appropriated to certain things as their 
signs, and certain ways of inflecting and combining those 
sounds come to be established as denoting the relations which 
subsist among the things signified. 

It is not the business of grammar, as some critics seem pre- 
posterously to imagine, to give law to the fashions which 
regulate our speech. On the contrary, from its conformity 
to these, and from that alone, it derives all its authority and 
value. For what is the grammar of any language 1 It is no 
other than a collection of general observations methodically 
digested, and comprising all the modes previously and inde- 
pendently established, by which the significations, deriva 
lions, and combinations of words in that language are ascer 
tained. It is of no consequence here to what causes origi 
nally these modes or fashions owe their existence — to imi 
tation, to reflection, to affectation, or to caprice; they no 

Quern pene arbitnum est ct jus et norma loquendi." 

HoR.. De Arte Patt. 


sooner obtain and become general than they are laws of the 
language, and the grammarian s only business is to note, col- 
lect, and methodize them. Nor does this truth concern only 
those more comprehensive analogies or rules which affect 
whole classes of words, such as nouns, verbs, and the other 
parts of speech ; but it concerns every individual word, in the 
uiflecting or the combining of which a particular mode hath 
itrevailed. Every single anomaly, therefore, though depart- 
ng from the rule assigned to the other words of the same 
class, and on that account called an exception, stands on the 
lame basis on which the rules of the tongue are founded, 
-ustom having prescribed for it a separate rule.* 

The truth of this position hath never, for aught I can re 
^nember, been directly controverted by anybody ; yet it is 
certain that both critics and grammarians often argue in such 
K way as is altogether inconsistent with it. What, for ex- 
ample, shall we make of that complaint of Dr. Swift, " that 
our language, in many instances, offends against every part 
of grammar r't Or what could the doctor's notion of gram- 
mar be, when he expressed himself in this manner? Some 
notion, possibly, he had of grammar in the abstract, a univer- 
sal archetype by which the particular grammars of all differ- 
ent tongues ought to be regulated. If this was his meaning, 
I cannot say whetlier he is in the right or in the wrong in this 
accusation. I acknowledge myself to be entirely ignorant of 
this ideal grammar; nor can I form a conjecture where its 
laws are to be learned. One thing, indeed, every smatterer 
in philosophy will tell us, that there can be no natural con- 
nexion between the sounds of any language and the things 
signified, or between the modes of inflection and combination, 
and the relations they are intended to express. Perhaps he 
meant the grammar of some other language ; if so, the charge 
*vas certainly true, but not to the purpose, since we can say 
•vith equal truth of every language, that it offends against the 
grammar of every other language whatsoever. If he meant 
the English grammar, I would ask. Whence has that grammar 
derived its laws 1 If from general use (and I cannot conceive 
another origin), then it must be owned that there is a gener- 
al use in that language as well as in others ; and it were ab- 
surd to accuse the language which is purely what is con- 
formable to general use in speaking and writing, as offend- 
ing against general use. But if he meant to say that there 
is no fixed, established, or gentral use in the language, that 

* Thus, in the two verbs call and shall, the second person singular of the 
former is caltest, agreeably to the general rule; the second person singv lar 
of the latter is shall, agreeably to a particular rule aft'ecting that verb. To 
say shallest for sholt would be as much a barbarism, though according to the 
general rule, as to say rait for callest, which is according to no rule. 

< Letter to the Lord High Treasurer, &c. 
P 2 


it is quit i irregular, he hath been very unlucky in his mdii 
ner of expressing himself. Nothnig is more evident than 
that, where there is no law, there is no transgression. * In 
that case, he ought to have said that it is not susceptible of 
grammar; which, by-the-way, would not have been true of 
English, or, indeed, of any the most uncultivated language ok 
the eartli. 

It is easy, then, to assign the reason why the justness of 
the complaint, as Doctor Lowth observes,* has never yet 
been questioned ; it is purely because, not being understood, 
it hath never been minded. But if, according to this inge- 
nious gentleman, the words our language have, by anew kind 
of trope, been used to denote those who speak and write Eng- 
lish, and no more hath been intended than to signify that our 
best speakers and most approved authors frequently offend 
'igainst the rules of grammar, that is, against the general use 

the language, I shall not here enter on a discussion of the 
Ajestion. Only let us rest in these as fixed principles, that 
use, or the custom of speaking, is the solf^ original standard 
of conversation as far as regards the expression, and the cus- 
tom of writing is tiie sole standard of style ; that the latter 
comprehends the former, and something more ; that to the 
tribunal of use as to the supreme autliority, and, consequent 
ly, in every grammatical controversy, the last resort, we are 
entitled to appeal from the laws and the decisions of gram- 
marians ; and that this order of subordination ought never, 
on any account, to be reversed.! 

But if use be here a matter of such consequence, it will be 
necessary, before advancing any farther, to ascertain precise- 
ly what it is. We shall otherwise be in danger, though we 
agree about the name, of differing widely in the notion that 
we assign to it. 



In what extent, then, must the word be understood ! It is 
sometimes called general use ; yet is it not manifest that the 
generality of people speak and write very badly '] Nay, is 
not this a truth that will be even generally acknowledged 1 
It will be so ; and this very acknowledgment shows that 
many terms and idioms may be common, which, neverthe- 
less, have not the general sanction, no, nor even tlie suffrage 
of those that use them. The use here spoken of implies nol 
on y currency, but vogue. It is, properly, reputable custom- 

* Preface to his Introduction to English Grammar. 

t " Non ratione nititur analogia, seci e.xempio : nee lex es«. .oquendi, aed 
observatio : nt ipsam analogiam nuila res alia fecerit, quam consuetudo "^ 
Quint., Insi., 1. i, c. vi 


This leads to a distinction between good use and baa jisft 
m language, the former of which will be found to have the 
approbation of those who have not themselves attained ;t 
The far greater part of mankind, perhaps ninety-nine of a 
hundred, are, by reason of poverty and other circumstances, 
deprived of the advantages of education, and condemned to 
toil for bread, almost incessantly, in some narrow occupation. 
They have neither the leisure nor the means of attaining any 
knowledge except what lies within the contracted circle of 
their several professions. As the ideas which occupy their 
minds are few, the portion of the language known to them 
must be very scanty. It is impossible that our knowledge 
of words should outstrip our knowledge of things. It may, 
and often doth, come short of it. Words may be remember- 
ed as sounds, but cannot be understood as signs while we re- 
main unacquainted with the things signified. 

Hence it will happen, that in the lower walks of life, from 
the intercourse which all ranks occasionally have with one 
another, the people will frequently have occasion to hear 
words of which they never had occasion to iearn the mean- 
ing. These they will pick up and remember, produce and 
misapply. But there is rarely any uniformity in such blun- 
ders, or anytliing determinate in the senses they give to 
words which are not wiiliin their sphere. Nay, they are not 
themselves altogether unconscious of this defect. It often 
ariseth from an admiration of the manner of their superiors, 
and from an ill-judged imitation of their way of speaking, 
that the greatest errors of the illiterate, in respect of con- 
versation, proceed. And were they sensible how widely dif- 
ferent their use and application of such words is from that 
of those whom they affect to imitate, they would renounce 
their own immediately. 

But it may be said, and said with truth, that in such sub- 
jects as are within their reach, many words and idioms pre- 
vail among the poj)ulace which, notwithstanding a use pretty 
uniform and extensive, are considered as corrupt, and, like 
counterfeit money, though common, not valued. This is the 
case particularly with those terms and phrases which critics 
have denominated vulgarisms. Their use is not reputable. 
On the contrary, we always associate with it such notions 
of meanness as suit those orders of men among whom chief- 
ly the use is found. Hence it is that many who have con- 
tracted a habit of employing such idioms do not approve 
them ; and though, through negligence, xhay frequently faL 
into them in conversation, they carefully avoid them in wri- 
ting, or even in a solemn speech on any important occasion 
Their currency, therefore, is witliout authority and weight. 
Tlie tattle of children hath a currency, but, however univer- 
B.%' their maimer of corrupting words may be among them- 


selves, it can never establisl what is accounted usi; in Ian 
guage. Now, what children are to men, that precisely the 
ignorant are to the knowing. 

From the practice of those wh ) are conversant in any art, 
elegant or mechanical, we always lake the sense of the terms 
and phrases belonging to that art ; in like manner, from the 
practice of those who have had a liberal education, and are 
therefore presumed to be best acquainted with men and things, 
we judge of the general use in language. If in this particu- 
lar there be any deference to the practice of the great and 
rich, it is not ultimately because they are greater and richer 
than others, but because, from their greatness and riches, 
they are imagined to be wi.scr and more knowing. The 
source, therefore, of tliat preference which distinguisheth 
good use from bad in language, is a natural propension of 
the human mind to believe that those are tiie best judges of 
the proper signs and of the proper application of them who 
understand best the things which they represent. 

But who are they that in the public estimation are pos 
sessed of this character? This question is of tlie greatest 
moment for ascertaining that use which is entitled to the 
epithets reputable and good. Vaugelas makes them in France 
to be '• the soundest part of the court, and the soundest part 
of the authors of the age."* With us Britons, the first part, 
at least, of this description, will not answer. In France, 
whicli is a pure monarchy, as the dependance of the inferioi 
orders is much greater, their submission to their superiors, 
and the humble respect which in every instance they show 
them, seem, in our way of judging, to border even upon ado- 
ration. With us, on the contrary, who in our spirit, as well 
as in the constitution of our government, have more of the 
republican than of the monarchical, there is no remarkable 
partiality in favour of courtiers. At least 'heir being such 
rarely enhanceth our opinion either of their abilities or of 
their virtues. 

I would not by .his be understood to signify that the prima 
ry principle which gives rise to the distinction between ^ood 
use and bad in language, is different in ditferent countries. 
It is not originally, even in F'rance, a deference to power 
but to wisdom. Only it must be remarked, that the tendency 
of the imagination is to accumulate all great qualities into 
the same character. Wherever we find one or two of these, 
we naturally presume the rest. This is particularly true 
of those qualities which, by their immediate consequences 
strongly affect the external senses. We are, in a numner, 

* •' Void coinrne on defiiiit le bon usage. C'cst la fa>;cr. de pnr!(!r ile !a 
plus saine partie cle la cour, conforinement a la fa<;on rt'^crire <le la plus 
saijie partie des auleurs du temps." — Pri/ace aux Rem^rques sur la L,i» :iit 


Jdzzled by them. Hence it happens, that it is difficult even 
for a man of discernment, till he bo better instructed by ex- 
perience, to restrain a veneration for the judgment of a per- 
son of uncommon splendour and magnificence ; as if one 
who is more powerful and opulent than his neighbours were 
of necessity wiser too. Now this original bias of the mind 
some political constitutions serve to strengthen, others tr 

But, without resting the matter entirely on the differenc; 
in respect of government between France and Britain, th 
British court is commonly too fluctuating an objei-*;. Use • , 
language requires firmer ground to stand upon. No douh 
the conversation of men of rank and eminence*, tvhether oi 
the court or not, will have its influence ; f.'.id ir. what con- 
cerns merely the pronunciation, it is the or.'iy rule to which 
we can refer the matter in every doubtful case ; but in whai 
concerns the words themselves, their construction and appli 
cation, it is of importance to have some certain, steady, and 
well-known standard to recur to, a standard which every one 
hath access to canvass and examine. And this can be no 
other than authors of reputation. Accordingly, we find that 
Ihese are, by universal consent, in actual possession of this 
authority, as to this tribunal, when any doubt arises, the ap- 
peal is always made. 

I choose to name them authors of reputation, rather than 
good authors, for two reasons : first, because it is more strict 
ly conformable to the truth of the case. It is solely the es- 
teem of the public, and not their intrinsic merit (though these 
two go generally together), which raises them to this distinc- 
tion, and stamps a value on their language. Secondly, this 
character is more definitive than the other, and, therefore, 
more extensively intelligible. Between two or more authors, 
different readers will differ exceedingly as to the preference 
in point of merit, who agree perfectly as to the respective 
places they hold in the favour of the public. You may find 
persons of a taste so particular as to prefer Parnell to Mil- 
ton, b\it you will hardly find a person that will dispute the 
superiority of the latter in the article of fame. For this rea- 
son, 1 affirm that Vaugelas's definition labours under an es- 
sential defect, inasmuch as it may be difficult to meet with 
two persons whose judgments entirely coincide in determin- 
ing who are the sounder part of the court or of the authors 
of the age. I need scarcely add that, when I speak of rep- 
utation, 1 mean not onl> in regard to knowledge, but in re- 
gard to the talent of communicating knowledge. 1 coula 
name writers who, in respect to the first, have been justl) 
valued by the public, but who, on account of a supposed de 
ficiency in respect of the second, are considered as of no au 
Uiority in language. 


Nor is there the least ground to fear that we should Dt 
crampod here within too narrow limits. In the 
tongue there is a plentiful supply of noted writings in all the 
various kinds of composition, in prose and verse, serious and 
ludicrous, grave and familiar. Agreeably, then, to this first 
qualification of the term, we must understand to be compre- 
hended under general use whatever modes of speech are author- 
ized as good by the ivritings of a great number, if not the major- 
ity, of celebrated authors. 



Another qualification of the term use which deserves our 
attention is, that it must be national. This I consider in a 
twofold view, as it stands opposed both to provincial and /or- 

in every province there are peculiarities of dialect, which 
oflTect not only the pronunciation and the accent, but even the 
inflection and the combination of words, whereby their idiom 
is distinguished both from that of the nation and from thatoi 
every other province. The narrowness of the circle to which 
the currency of the words and phrases of such dialects is 
confined, sufliciently discriminates them from that which is 
properly styled the language, and which commands a circu- 
lation incomparably wider. This is one reason, I imagine, 
why the term use, on this subject, is commonly accompanied 
with the epithet general. In the use of provincial idioms, 
there is, it must be acknowledged, a pretty considerable con- 
currence both of the middle and of the lower ranks. But still 
this use is bounded by the province, county, or district which 
gives name to the dialect, and beyond whicli its peculiarities 
are sometimes unintelligible, and always ridiculous. But the 
language, properly so called, is found current, especial!}' in 
the upper and the middle ranks, over the whole British Em- 
pire. Tiius, though in every province they ridicule the idiom 
of every other province, they all vail to the English idiom, 
and scruple not to acknowledge its superiority over their own. 

For example, in some parts of Wales (if we may credit 
Shakspeare*), the common people say goot for good ; in the 
south of Scotland they say gude., and in the north gueed. 
Whsrever one of these pronunciations prevails, you will nev- 
er hear from a native either of the other two ; but the word 
good is to be heard everywhere, from natives as well as 
strangers; nor do the people ever dream that there is any- 
thing laughable in it, however much they are disposed to laugh 
at the county accents and idioms which they discern in one 
another. Nay, more, though the people of distant provinces 
♦ Flucllin in Henry V. 


do not understand one another, they mostly all understand 
one who speaks properly. It is a just and curious observa- 
tion of Dr. Kenrick, that " the case of languages, or, rather, 
speech, being quite contrary to that of science, in the former 
the ignorant understand the learned better than the learned 
do the ignorant ; in the latter it is otherwise."* 

Hence it will perhaps be found true, upon inquiry, notwith- 
standing its paradoxical appearance, that though it be very 
uncommon to speak or write pure English, yet, of all the 
idioms subsisting among us, that to which we give the char 
aclcr of purity is the cominonest. The faulty idioms do nol 
jar more with true English than they do with one another ; 
so that, in order to our being satisfied of the truth of the ap- 
parent paradox, it is requisite oaiy that we remember that 
these idioms are diverse one from another, though they come 
under the common denomination of impure. Those who wan- 
der from the road may be incomparably more than those who 
travel in it ; and yet, if it be into a thousand different by-paths 
that they deviate, there may not in any one of these be found 
so many as those whom you will meet upon the king's high- 

What hath been now said of provincial dialects may, with 
very little variation, be applied to professional dialects, or 
the cant which is sometimes observed to prevail among those 
of the same profession or way of life. The currency of the 
latter cannot be so exactly circumscribed as that of the for- 
mer, whose distinction is purely local ; but their use is not, 
on that account, either more extensive or more reputable. 
Let the following serve as instances of this kind. Advice, in 
the commercial idiom, means information or intelligence ; 
nervous, in open defiance of analogy, doth in the medical cant, 
as Johnson expresseth it, denote having weak nerves ; and 
Ihe word turtle, though preoccupied time immemorial by a 
species of dove, is, as we learn from the same authority, em- 
ployed by sailors and gluttons to signify a tortoise. f 

It was remarked that national might also be opposed to 
foreign. I imagine it is too evident to need illustration, that 
the introduction of extraneous words and idioms from other 
anguages and foreign nations, cannot be a smaller transgres- 
sion against the established custom of the English tongue, 
than the introduction of words and idioms peculiar to some 
precincts of England, or, at least, somewhere current within 
tho British pale. The only material diff"erence between them 
is, that the one is more commonly the error of the learned, 
the other of the vulgar. But if, in this view, the former is 
entitled to greater indulgence from the respect paid to learii- 
uig, in another view it is entitled to less, as it is much more 

• Rhet. Gram., chap, ii., sect. iv. 
^ Sffi those words in the English Dictjonarv 


commonly tlie result of affectation. Thus two essential q\iiil 
ities of usage in regard to language have been settled, that it 
be both reputable and national. 



But there will naturally arise here another question : "is 
not use, even good and national use, in the same country, dif- 
ferent in different periods] And if so, to the usage of what 
period shall we attach ourselves as the proper rule 1 If you 
say the present, as it may reasonably be expected that you 
will, the difiicully is not entirely removed. In what extent 
of signification must we understand the word present? How 
far may we safely range in quest of authorities] or at what 
distance backward from this moment are authors still to be 
accounted as possessing a legislative voice in language ]" To 
this, I own, it is difficult to give an answer with all the pre- 
cision that might be desired. Yet it is certain that, when we 
are in search of precedents for any word or idiom, there are 
certain mounds which we cannot overleap with safety. Foi 
instance, the authority of Hooker or of Raleigh, however 
great their merit and their fame be, will not now be admitted 
in support of a term or expression not to be found in any 
good writer of a later date. 

In truth, the bouivlary must not be fixed at the same dis- 
tance in every subject. Poetry hath ever been allowed a 
wider range than prose; and it is but just that, by an indul- 
gence of this kind, some compensation should be made for 
the peculiar restraints she is laid under by the measure. Nor 
is this only a matter of convenience to the poet; it is also a 
matter of gratification to the reader. Diversity in the style 
relieves the ear, and prevents its being tired with the too fre- 
quent recurrence of the rhj^mes, or sameness of the metre. 
But still there are limits to this diversity. The authority of 
Milton and of Waller on this article remains as yet unques- 
tioned. I should not think it prudent often to introduce words 
or phrases of which no example could be produced since the 
days f f Spenser and of Shakspeare. 

And even in prose the bounds are not the same for every 
kind of composition. In matters of science, for instance, 
whose terms, from the nature of the thing, are not capable of 
ruch a currency as those which belong to ordinary subjects, 
and are within the reach of ordinary readers, there is no ne- 
cessity of confining an author within a very narrow circle. 
But in composing pieces which come under this last denom- 
ination, as histor3% romance, travels, moral essays, familiar 
letters, and the like, it is safest for an author to consider 
'ho^e words and idioms as obsolete which have been disiistvl 


DV all good authors for a longer period than the age of man 
extends to. It is not by ancient, but by present use, that our 
style must be regulated. And that use can never be denom- 
inated present which hath been laid aside time immemorial, 
ir, which amounts to the same thing, falls not within the 
knowledge or remembrance of any now living.* 

This remark not only affects terms and phrases, but also 
the declension, combination, and construction of words. Is 
it not, then, surprising to find that one of Lowth's penetra- 
tion should think a single person entitled to revive a form of 
inflection in a particular word which had been rejected by all 
good writers, of every denomination, for more than a hun 
dred and fifty years ^f But if present use is to be renounced 
for ancient, it will be necessary to determine at what pre- 
cise period antiquity is to be regarded as a rule. One inclines 
to remove the standard to the distance of a century and a 
half; another may, with as good reason, fix it three centu- 
ries backward, and another six. And if the language of any 
of these periods is to be judged by the use of any other, it will 
be found, no doubt, entirely barbarous. 'I'o me it is so evi- 
dent either that the present use must be the standard of the 
present language, or that tiie language admits no standard 
whatsoever, that I caimot conceive a clearer or more indis- 
putable principle from which to bring an argument to sup- 
port it. 

Yet it is certain that even some of our best critics and gram- 
marians talk occasionally as if they had a notion of some 
other standard, though they never give us a single hint to di- 
rect us where to search for it. Doctor Johnson, for exam- 
ple, in the preface to his very valuable Dictionary, acknowl- 
edges properly the absolute dominion of custom over lan- 
guage, and yet, in the explanation of particular words, ex- 
presseth himself sometimes in a manner that is inconsistent 
with this doctrine. "This word," says he, in one place, 
" though common, and used by the best writers, is perhaps 
barbarous."! I have always understood a barbarism in 
speech to be a term or expression totally unsupported by the 

♦ "Nam fuerit pene ridiculum malle sermonem quo locutisiint homines, 
q lam quo ioquantur." — Quint., Inst., 1. i., c. vi. 

t Inlrod., &c. In a note on the irregular verb sit, he says, " Dr. Middle- 
ton Ijath, with great propriety, restored the true participle sitten." Would 
he not have acted with as great propriety had he restored the true partici- 
ples pisht for pitched. Taught for reached, blent for blended, and shright for 
shrieked, on full as good av.thority, the authority of Spenser, one of ihe 
sweetest of our ancient hards 1 And why might not Dr. Lowih himseli 
have, with great propriety, restored the true participles hit/en, casten, lei/en, 
pullen, xetten, shutten, slitten, splilten, founden, groiDiden, o( Ihe verbs hit, cast, 
let, put, set, shut, slit, split, find, grind/ for it would not be impossible to pro- 
duce antiquated authors in support of all these. L^esides, they nre all u>e</ 
to this dav in some provincial dialects. t See tl e word j^'owuditiji 


present usage of good writers in the language. A meaning 
very different is suggested here, but what that meaning is it 
will not be easy to conjecture. Nor has this celebrated wri- 
ter given us, on the word iariarot/5, any definition of the term 
which will throw light on his application of it in the passage 
quoted. I entirely agree with Dr. Priestley, that it will nev- 
er be the arbitrary rules of any man, or tody of men what- 
ever, that will ascertain the language,* there being no other 
dictator here but use. 

It is, indeed, easier to discover the aim of our critics in 
their observations on this subject than the meaning of the 
terms which they employ. These are often employed with- 
out precision ; their aim, however, is generally good. It is 
as much as possible to give a check to innovation. But the 
means which they use for this purpose have sometimes even 
a contrary tendency. If you will replace what hath been 
long since expunged from the language, and extirpate what 
is firmly rooted, undoubtedly you yourself become an inno- 
vator. If you desert the present use, and by your example, 
at least, estat)lish it as a maxim that every critic may revive 
at pleasure oldfashioned terms, inflections, and combinations, 
and make such alterations on words as will bring them near 
er to what he supposeth to be the etymon, there can be no- 
thing fixed or stable on tlie subject. Possibly you prefer the 
usage that prevailed in the reign of Queen Klizabelh ; anoth- 
er may, with as good reason, have a partiality for tliat which 
subsisted in the days of Chaucer. And with regard to ety- 
mology, about which grammarians make so mucli useless 
bustle, if every one hath a privilege of altering words accord- 
ing to his own opinion of their origin, the opinions of the 
learned being on this subject so various, nothing but a gen- 
eral chaos can ensue. 

On the other hand, it may be said, " Are we to catch at 
every newfashioned term and phrase which whim or affecta- 
tion may invent, and folly circulate! Can this ever tend to 
give either dignity to our style or permanency to our lan- 
guage V It cannot, surely. This leads to a farther expla- 
nation and limitation of the term present use, to prevent our 
heing misled by a mere name. It is possible, nay, it is com- 
mon, for men, in avoiding one error, to run into another and 
a worse. t There is a mean in everything. I have purpose- 
ly avoided the expressions recent rise and modern use, as those 
seem to stand in direct opposition to what is ancient. But I 
used the word present, which, in respect of place, is always 
opposed to absent, and in respect of time, to past or future, 
that now have no existence. When, therefore, the word is 
used of language, its proper contrary is not ancient, but obso 

* Preface to his Uuiiinionts of English Grammar. 

t " In viiium diicit culpae luga, si caret arte." — HoR. De Arte Poet. 


ipfe. Besides, thoug-h I have acknowledged language to be 
a species of mode or fashion, as doubtless it is, yet, being 
much more permanent than articles of apparel, furniture, and 
the like, that, in regard to their form, are under the dominion 
of that inconstant power, I have avoided also using the words 
fashionable and modish, which but too generally convey iho 
ideas of novelty and levity. Words, therefore, are by nc 
means to be accounted the worse for being old, if they art 
not obsolete ; neither is any word the better for being now. 
On the contrary, some time is absolutely necessary to consti- 
tute that custom or use on which the establishment of words 

If we recur to the standard already assigned, namely, the 
writings of a plurality of celebrated authors, there will be no 
scope for the comprehension of words and idioms which can 
be denominated novel and upstart. It must be owned that 
we often meet with such terms and phrases in newspapers, 
,)eriodical pieces, and political pamphlets. Tiie writers to 
the times rarely fail to have their performances studded with 
ti competent number of these fantastic ornaments. A popu- 
lar orator in the House of Commons halli a sort of patent 
from the public, during the continuance of his popularity, for 
coining as many as lie pleases ; and tliey are no sooner is- 
sued than they obtrude tliemselvos upon us from every quar 
ter, in all the daily papers, letters, essays, addresses, &c. 
IJut this is of no significancy. Such words and phrases are 
but the insects of a season at the most. The people, alway? 
fickle, are just as prompt to drop them as they were to take 
them up; and not one of a hundred survives the particular 
occasion or parly struggle which gave it birth. We may 
justly apply to them what Jolinson says of a groat number of 
the terms of the laborious and mercantile part of *he people : 
" This fugitive cant cannot be regarded as aiiv part of the 
durable materials of a language, and therefore must be sufTcr- 
ed to perish with other things unworthy of preservation."* 

As use, therefore, implies duration, and as even a few 
years are not sufficient for ascertaining the characters of au- 
thors, I have, for the most part, in the following sheets, taken 
my prose examples neither from living authors nor from 
those who wrote before the Revolution; not from the first, 
because an autiior's fame is not so firmly established in his 
lifetime ; nor from the last, that there may be no suspicion 
that the style is superannuated. The vulgar translation of 
'the Bible I must, indeed, except from this restriction. The 
continuance and universality of its use tliroughout the British 
dominions affords an obvious reason for the exception. 

Thus I have attempted to explain what that ust is which i» 

» Preface to hi.s Dictionaiy. 


(he sole mistress of language, and to ascertain the precise 
import and extent of these her essential attributes, reputable, 
ii'<:iimaL and present, and to give the directions proper to be 
observed in searching for the laws of this empress. In truth, 
grammar and criticism are but her ministers; and though, 
like other ministers, they would sometimes impose the dic- 
tates of their own humour upon the people as the commands 
»f their sovereign, they are not so often successful in such 
; tempts as to encourage the frequent repetition of them. 



xV;e first thing in elocution that claims our attention is pu- 
iiV ; all its other qualities have their foundation in this. The 
g.<dt standard of purity is use, whose essential properties, as 
ref.c.rdii!g language, have been considered and explained in 
th»' pi-ccedirig chapter. But before I proceed to illustrate and 
spi'cify Ihc various offences against purity, or the different 
ways ia which it may be violated, it will be proper to inquire 
so much farther into the nature of the subject as will enable 
us lo fix on some general rules or canons by which, in all our 
paUicular decisions, we ought to be directed. This I have 
judged the more necessary, as many of the verbal criticisms 
wlrch have been made on English authors since the begin- 
niiiiT of the present century (for in this island we had little or 
nothing of the kind before) seem to have proceeded cither 
from no settled principles at all, or from such as will not bear 
a near examination. There is this farther advantage in be- 
ginning with establishing certain canons, that if they shall be 
found reasonable, they will tend lo make what remains of our 
road both shorter and clearer than it would otherwise have 
been. Much in the way of illustration and eviction may be 
saved on the particular remarks. And if, on the contrary, 
they should not be reasonable, and, consequently, the remarks 
raisi^d on them should not be well founded, no way that I can 
think of bids fairer for detecting the fallacy, and preventing 
eveiy reader from being misled. A fluent and specious, but 
superficial manner of criticising, is very apt to take at first, 
even with readers whom a deliberate examination into the 
priiH-iples on which the whole is built would quickly unde 

" Uut," it may be said, " if custom, which is so capriciouH 
and \inaccountable, is everything in language, of what signifi- 

5735 /-'(ILOS'/PHy OF HiJETORir. 175 

.:auce is eithf r the jframmarian or the critic !" Of consider- 
able fejgnificaAce notwithstanding; and of most, then, when 
they confine themselves to tlieir legal departments, and do 
not usurp an authority that dotti not, belong to them. The 
man who, in u country like ours, should compile a succinct, 
perspicuous, and faithful digest of the laws, though no law- 
fiver, would be universally acknowledged to be a public bene- 
I'actor. Hov/ easy would that important branch of knowl- 
edge be rendered by such a work, in comparison of what it 
must be when v,'e have nothing to have recourse to but a 
<abyrinth of statutes, reports, and opinions. That man, also, 
.vould be of considerable use, though not in the same degree, 
vho should vipjilantly attend to every illegal practice that 
>vere beginning to prevail, and evince its danger by exposing 
Its contrariety to law. Of <5imilar benefit, though in a differ- 
ent sphere, are grammar and criticism. In language, the 
grammaria'i is properly the compiler of the digest ; and the 
verbal critic, the man who seasonably notifies the abuses that 
are creeping in. Both tend to facilitate the study of the 
tongue to strangers, and to render natives more perfect in the 
knowledge of it, to advance general use into universal, and to 
give a greater stability, at least, if not a permanency, to cus- 
tom, the most mutable thing in nature. These are advanta- 
ges which, with a moderate share of attention, may be dis- 
covered from what hath been already said on the subject : 
but they are not the only advantages. From what I shall 
have occasion to observe afterward, it will probably appear 
that these arts, by assisting to suppress every unlicensed 
term, and to stigmatize every improper idiom, tend to give 
greater precision, and, consequently, more perspicuity and 
beauty to our style. 

The observations made in the preceding chapter might 
easily be converted into so many canons of criticism, by 
which whatever is repugnant to reputable, to national, or to 
present use, in the sense wherein these epithets have been 
explained, would be condemned as a transgression of the 
radical laws of the language. But on this subject of use there 
arise two eminent questions, the determination of which may 
lead to the establishment of other canons not less important. 
The first question is this : " Is reputable, national, and pres- 
ent use, which, for brevity's sake, I shall hereafter simply de- 
nominate good use, always uniform in her decisions]" The 
second is, " As no term, idiom, or application that is totally 
unsupported by her can he admitted to be good, is everv term, 
idiom, and application that is countenanced by her to bo es« 
.eemcd good, and the-efore worthy to be retained?" 




In answer to the former of these questions, I acknowledge 
lliat in every case there is not a perfect uniformity in the de- 
terminations even of such use as may justly be denominated 
good. Wherever a considerable number of authorities can 
be jtrodiiced in support of two different, though resembling 
modes of expression for the same thing, there is always a di- 
vided use, and one cannot be said to speak barbarously, or to 
oppose the usage of the language, who conforms to either 
side.* This divided use hath place sometimes in single 
words, sometimes in construction, and sometimes in arrange- 
ment. In all such cases there is scope for choice ; and it be- 
longs, without question, to the critical art to lay down the 
principles by which, in doubtful cases, our choice should be 

There are, indeed, some differences in single words, which 
ouglit still to be retained. 'I'liey are a kind of synonymas, 
and aflbrd a little variety, without occasioning any inconve 
nience whatever.! In arrangement, too, it certainly holds, 
that various manners suit various styles, as various styles 
suit various subjects, and various sorts of composition. For 
this reason, unless when some obscurity, ambiguity, or inel- 
egance is created, no disposition of words which hath obtain- 
ed the public approbation ought to be altogether rejected. In 
construction the case is somewhat dinerent. Purity, perspi- 
cuity, and elegance generally require that in this there be the 
strictest uniformity. Yet differences, here, are not only al- 
lowable, but even convenient, when attended with corre- 
.spondent differences in the application. Thus the verb to 
found, when used literally, is more properly followed by the 
preposition on, as, "The house wns founded on a rock ;" in the 
metaphorical application, it is often belter with in, as in this 

» The words nowise, noway, and noways, afVbrd a proper instance of this 
divided use. Yet our learned and ingenious lexicographer hath denomina- 
ted all those who either write or pronounce the word noways ignorant bar- 
barians. 'I'hese ignorant barbarians (but he hath surely not adverted to this 
circumstance) are only Pope, and Swift, and Addison, and Locke, and sev 
eral others of our most celebrated writers. This censure is the more as 
tonishing, that cve.i in this form which he has the ught fit to repudiate, the 
meaning assigned to it is strictly conformable to that which etymology, ac- 
cording to his own e.\plication, would suggest. — See Johnson's Dictionaiu 
on the words nowise and truy, particularly the senses of way, marked witb 
these numbers, 15, 10, 18, and 19. 

t Such are .subterranean and subterraneous, homogeneal and homogene- 
ous, aiuhcntic and authentical, isle and island, mount and mountain, climo 
and climate, near and nigh, betwixt and between, amongst and among, 
amidst and amid. Nor do I see any hurt that would ensue v«f adding 
/i<iic;w and nnway to the number 


Bcntence, " They maintained that dominion is founded in 
grace." Both sentences would be badly expressed if these 
prepositions were transposed, though there are perhaps cases 
wherein either would be good. In those instances, there- 
fore, of divided use, which give scope for option, the follow 
ing canons are humbly proposed, in order to assist us in as- 
signing- the preference. Let it, in the mean time, be remem- 
bered, as a point always presupposed, that the authorities on 
(he opposite sides are equal, or nearly so. When those on 
one side greatly preponderate, it is in vain to oppose the pre- 
vailing usage. Custom, when wavering, may be swayed, but 
when reluctant will not be forced; and in this department a 
person never effects so little as when he attempts too much.* 


The first canon, then, shall be, When use is divided as to 
any particular word or phrase, and the expression used by 
one part halh been preoccupied, or is in any instance suscep 
tible of a different signification, and the expression employed 
by the other part never admits a different sense, both perspi 
cuity and variety require that the form of expression which 
is in every instance strictly univocal be preferred. 

For this reason, aught, signifying anything, is preferable to 
ought, which is one of our defective verbs ; hi/ consequence, 
meaning consequently, is preferable to of consequence, as this 
expression is often employed to denote momentous or im- 
portant. In the preposition toward and towards, and the ad- 
verbs forward and forwards, backward and backwards, the two 
forms are used indiscriminately. But as the first form in all 
these is also an adjective, it is better to confine the particles 
to the second. Custom, too, seems at present to lean this 
way. Besides and beside serve both as conjunctions and ns 
prepositions.! There appears some tendency at present to 
assign to each a separate province, 'i'his tendency ought to 

* For this reason, it is to no purpose, with .Johnson, to pronounce the 
word news as a plural (whatever it might have been in the days of Sydney 
and Raleigh), since cua cm hath evidently determined otherwise. Nor is 
the observation on the letter [a-] in his Dictionary well founded, that "it 
seems to be established as a rule that no noun singular should end with [s] 
single ;" the words alms, amends, summons, sous, genus, species, genius, chorus, 
and s2veral others, show the contrary. For the same reason, the words 
averse and aversiori. are more properly construed with to than with _/>07)i. The 
examples in favour of the latter preposition are beyond comparison outnum- 
bered by those in favour of the former. The argument from etymology is 
here ot no value, being taken from the use of another language. If by the 
»aaie rule we were to regulate all nouns and verbs of Latin original, ou' 
present syntax wonld be overturned. It is more conformable to Englisl. 
Lnalogy Avith to; the words dislike and hatred, nearly synonymous, are thus 

t These nearly correspond to the conjunction prxteria, &nd the preoosi 
i;on prater in Latin. 


be humoured by employing only the former as the conjufit- 
lion, the latter as the preposition. 

This jirinciple likewise leads me to prefer extemporary, as 
an adje( tive, to extempore, which is properly an adverb, and 
ought, for the sake of precision, to be restrained to that use. 
It is only of late that this last term begins to be employed 
adjectivcly. Thus we say, with equal propriety, an extem- 
vorary p>ayer, an extemporary sermon, and he prays extempore^ 
he preaches extempore. I know not how Dr. Priestley hath 
happened to mention tlie term extemporary in a way whicii 
would make one think he considered it as a word peculiar to 
Mr. Hume. The word hath evidently been in good use for a 
longer time than one thinks of searching back in quest of 
authorities, and remains in good use to this day. By the 
same ruh>, we ought to \ixeier scarcely, as an adverb, to scarce, 
which is an adjective, and exceedingly, as an adverb, to ex- 
ceeding, which is a participle. For tiie same reason, also, I 
am iucHncd to prefer that use which makes ye invariably the 
nominative plural of tiie personal pronoun ihou, and you the 
accusative, when applied to an actual phnality. When used 
for the singular number, custom hath deterniiii(!d that it shall 
be you in both cases. This renders the disiinclion rather 
more impcrtant, as for the most part it woul I sht)w directly 
wlieliier one or more were addressed; a point in whic'n we 
are often liable to mistake in all modern languages. From 
the like principle, in those verbs which have for the participle 
passive both the preterit form and one peculiar, the peculiar 
form ought to have the preference. Thus. I have gotten, 1 
have hidden, I have spoken, are better than I have got, 1 have 
hid, I have spoke* From the same principle, I tliink ate is 
preferable in the preterit tense, and eaten in the participle, to 
eat, which is the constant form of the present, though some- 
times, hIso, used for both the others. 

But though, in this judgn)ent concerning the participles, 1 
agree entirely with all our approved modern grammarians, I 
can by no means concur with some of them in their man- 
ner of supporting it. "We should be immediately shock- 
ed," says one of the best of them,! " "^^ I have knew, I have 
saw, I liave gave, &c., but our ears are grown familiar with 
/ hare wrote, I have drank, I have bore, &c., which are alto- 
gether as baibarous.-' Nothing can be more inconsistent, in 
my opinion, with the very first principles of granmiar, than 
what is here advanced. This ingenious gentleman surely 
will not pre! end that there is a barbarism in every word 
which serves for preterit and participle both, else the far 

* Yet I should prefer " I have held, helped, melted," to " I )iave holden, ho! 
pen, moUcn," thei-e last participles being now obsolete. Holpen is, indeed 
titill useJ when we speak formally of courts or public meetings. 

t Lowth's lnti<i(k!L ion to English Grammar 


greater parts of the preterits and participles of our tongue 
are barbarous. If not, what rendeis many of them, such as 
loced, hated, sent, brought, gooA English when employed either 
way \ I know no answer that can be given but custom ; 
that is, in other words, our ears are familiarized to them by 
frequent use. And what was ever meant by a barbarism in 
speech but that which shociis us by violating the constant 
usage in speakng or in wi'iting "? If so, to be equally barba- 
rous and to be equally shocking are synonymous, whereas 
to be barbarous and to be in familiar use are a contradiction 
ju terms. Yet in this manner does our author often express 
himself. " No authority," says he in another place, " is 
sufllcient to justify so manifest a solecism." No man need- 
ed less to be informed that authority is everything in lan- 
guage, and that it is the want of it alone that constitutes both 
the barbarism and the solecism. 


The second canon is. In doubtful cases regard ought to be 
had in ourdecisujiis to the analogy of the language. 

For this reason I prefer contemporary to cotemporary. The 
general use in words compounded with the inseparable prep 
osition con is to retain the [n] before a consonant, and to ex- 
punge it before a vowel or an [h] mute. Thus we say con- 
discipline, conjuncture, concomitant ; but co-equal, co-eternal, co- 
incide, co-heir. I know but one exception, which is co-partner. 
But in dubious cases we ought to follow the rule, and not the 
exception. If by the former canon the adverbs backwards and 
forwards are preferable to backward m\d forward, by this can- 
on, from the principle of analogy, afterwards and homewards 
should be preferred to afterward and homeward. Of the two 
adverbs thereabout and thereabouts, compounded of the parti- 
ciple there and the preposition, the former alone is analogical, 
there being no such word in the language as abouts. The 
same holds o{ hereabout and whereabout. In the verbs to dare 
and to need, many say, in the third person present singular, 
dare and need, as, " he need not go ; he dare not do it." Oth- 
ers say dares and needs. As the first usage is exceedingly 
irregular, hardly anything less than uniform practice could 
acUiurize it. This rule supplies us with another reason for 
preferring scarcely and exceedingly, as adverbs, to scarce and 
exceeding. The phrases Would to God and Would God can 
i)oth plead the authority of custom ; but the latter is strictly 
analogical, the former is not. It is an established idiom in 
the English tongue, that any of the auxiliaries might, coiUd^ 
would, should, did, and had, with the nominative subjoined, 
should express sometimes a supposition, sometimes a wrsh , 
which of the two it expresses in any instance is easily dis- 
covered from the context. Thus the expression " Would 


he but ask it of me," denotes either " If he would, or 1 wtsk 
that he loould but ask it of me." Would God, then, is proper- 
ly, I wish that God would, or O that God would. The other 
expression it is impossible to reconcile to analogy in any 
way.* For a like reason, the phrase evej- so, as when we 
say " though he were ever so good," is preferable to tiever so. 
In both these decisions I subscribe to the judgment of Dr. 
Johnson. Of the two phrases tn no ivise, in three words, and 
nowise in one, the last only is conformable to the present 
genius of the tongue. The noun icise, signifying manner, 
is quite obsolete. It remains now only in composition, in 
which, along with an adjective or other substantive, it forms 
an adverb or conjunction. Such are sidewise, lengthwise, 
coastwise, contrariwise, likewise, otherwise. 'J'hese always pre- 
serve the compound form, and never admit a preposition; 
consequently nowise, which is an adverb of the same order, 
ought analogically to be written in one word, and not to be 
preceded by m. In every ancient style all these words were 
uncumpounded, and had the preposition. They said in like 
tvise and m other ivise.'f And even if custom at present 
were uniform, as it is divided, in admitting in before noiuise, 
it ought to be followed, though anomalous. In these mat- 
ters it is foolish to attempt to struggle against the stream. 
All that I here plead for is, that when custom varies, an- 
alogy should decide the question. In the determination of 
this particular instance I differ from Dr. Priestley. Some- 
times whether is followed by no, sometimes by not. For 
instance, some would say " Whether he will or no ;" others, 
" Whether he will or not." Of these, it is the latter only that 
is analogical. There is an ellipsis of the verb in the last 
clause, which when you supply, you find it necessary to use 
the adverb not, " Whether he will or will not." I shall only 
add, that by both the preceding canons we ought always to 
say rend in the present of the indicative and of the infinitive, 
and never rent, as is sometimes done. The latter term hath 

* What has given rise to it is evidently the French Plut a Dieu, of the 
saiae import. But it has not been adverted to (so servile commonly are 
imiiators) tliat the \erhplaire is impersonal, and regularly construed with the 
preposition a ; neither of which is the case with the English wilt and would. 

t In proof of" this, I shall produce a passage taken from the Prologue ol 
the English translation of the Legenda Aurea, which seems to have been 
made towards the end of the fifteenth centurj'. " I haue submysed my 
selle to translate into Engylsshe the legende of sayntes whyche is called 
legenda aurea in Latyn; that is to saye, the golden legende. For in lyke 
wyse as golde is inoosi noble aboue all other metallys ; in like wyse is Ihys 
legende holden moost noble aboue all other werkes." About the time ihst 
our present version of the Scriptures was made, the old usage was wearing 
out. The phrase in like wise occurs but once (Matt.,xxi , 24), whereas the 
compound term likewise occurs frequently. We lind in several places, or, 
this wise, in any tvise, and in no wise. Tile first two phrases are now obso 
lete, and thn third eeems to be in a state which Dr. Johnson calls oUsolesuni 


been preoccupied by the preterit and the participle passive, 
besides that it is only in this application that it can be said 
to be used analogically. For this reason, the active parti- 
ciple ought always to be rending, and not renting. 


The third canon is, When the terms or expressions are in 
other respects equal, that ought to be preferred which is most 
agreeable to the ear. 

This rule hath perhaps a greater chance of being observed 
than any other, it having been the general bent for some time 
to avoid harsh sounds and unmusical periods. Of this we 
have many examples. Dclicatencss hath very properly given 
way to ddicacjj ; and, for a like reason, authenlicily will prob- 
ably soon displace aulhenticalness, and vindictive dispossess 
vindicative altogether. Na)% a regard to sound hath, in some 
instances, had an influence on the public choice, to tlie prej- 
udice of both the former canons, which one would think 
ought to be regarded as of more importance. Tluis the term 
ingenuity hath obtained in preference to ingeniousness, though 
the former cannot be deduced analogically from ingenious, 
and had besides been preoccupied, and, consequently, would 
be equivocal, being a regular derivative from the term inge 
nious, if the newer acceptation had not before now supplant 
ed the other altogether. 


The fourth canon is. In cases wherein none of the forego 
ing rules gives either side a ground of preference, a regard 
to simplicity (in which I include etymology when manifest) 
ought to determine our choice. 

Under the name simplicity I must be understood to com 
prehend also brevity; for that expression is always the sim 
plest which, with equal purity and perspicuity, is the briefest. 
We have, for instance, several active verbs whicli are used 
either with or without a preposition indiscriminately. Thus 
we say either accept or accept of, adrrat or admit of, approve or 
approve of; in like manner, address or address to, attain or at- 
tain to. In such instances it will hold, I suppose, pretty gen- 
erall}', that the simple form is preferable. This appears par- 
ticularly in the passive voice, in which every one must see 
the difference. " His present was accepted of by his friend" 
— " His excuse was admitted of by his master" — " The magis- 
trates were addressed to by the townsmen," are evidently 
much worse than " His present was accepted by his friend" 
— " His excuse v/as admitted by his master" — "The magis- 
trates were addressed by the townsmen." We have but too 
many of this awkward, disjointed sort of compounds, and 
therefore ought not to multiply them without necessity 



Now, if (juce the preposition should obtain ni the active 
voice, the rules of syntax will absolutely require it mi the 
passive. Sometimes, indeed, the verb hath two regimens, 
and then the preposition is necessary to one of them, as, " I 
address myself to my judges." " They addressed their vows 
to Apollo." But of such cases I am not here speaking. 

Both etymology and analogy, as well as euphony and sim- 
plicity, determine us in preferring subtract to substract, and. 
consequently, subtraction to substractioti* 


The (iflh and only other canon that occurs to me on the 
subject of divided use is. In the few cases wherein neither 
perspicuity nor analogy, neither sound nor simplicity, assists 
us in fixing our choice, it is safest to prefer that manner 
which is most conformable to ancient usage. 

This is founded on a very plain maxim, that in language, 
as in several other things, ciiange itself, unless when it is 
clearly advantageous, is ineligible. Tiiis aflbrds another 
reason for preferring tiiat usage which distinguishes ye as the 
nominative plural of llwu, when more than one are addressed, 
from you the accusative. For it may be remarked that this 
distinction is very regularly observed in our translation of 
the Bible, as well as in all our best ancient authors. Milton, 
too, is particularly attentive to it. The words causey and 
causeway are at present used promiscuously, though 1 do not 
know whether there be any difference but in the spelling. 
The old way is causey, which, as there appears no good rea 
son for altering it, ought to be held the best. The alteration, 
I suppose, hath sprung from some mistaken notion about the 
etymology ; but if the notion had been just, the reason would 
not have been sufficient. It tends, besides, either to intro- 
duce a vitiated pronunciation, or to add to the anomalies in 
orthography (by far too numerous already) with which the 
language is encumbered. Much the same may be said of 
jail and i^oal, jailer and goaler. That jai7 and jailer have been 
first used is probable, from the vulgar translation of the Bible. f 
The quotations on the other side from Shakspearc are not 

•■ Subtract is regularly deduced from the supine svMmctum of the Latin 
v'erb sui-traho, in ihe same way as net from actum, the supine of amo, and 
translate Ifom translatimi. the SUllIie of trarisftro. Uut it Would be quite un- 
r-xainpled to derive the English verb Iront the French soustraire. I5psides, 
there is not anolhei instance in the language of a word begintiing with the 
l^atm preposition fub, where the ,<!i(6 is foi'owed by an .«. unless when the 
original word compo'inded with the preposition begins with an s. Thus we 
say subscribe from sub and scrtbo, subsist from svb and sisio, svbstitute Irom 
sub and siiituo. But we cannot say substract from sub and straho, there be- 
ing no such word. There can be no doubt, therefore, that a mistaken ety- 
mology, arising from an allinity to the French term, not in the verb, b'lt ic 
the verbal noun, has given rise to this "^arsh anomaly. 

+ Acts. xvi. 23. 


much to be minded, as it is vvcll known that his editors have 
taken a good deal of freedom witli his orthography. The 
argument, from its derivation from the French geole, is very 
puerile. For the same reason, we ought to write jarLer and 
not garter, and plead the spelling of the French primitive 
jartiere. Nor would it violate the laws of pronunciation in 
English more to sound the [ja] as though it were written 
[gaj, than to sound the [ga] as though it were written [jaj 



1 COME now to the second question for ascertaining both 
■.he extent of the autlioi-ity claimed by custom, and the right- 
ful prerogatives of criticism. As no term, idiom, or applica- 
tion that is totally unsupported by use can be admitted to be 
good, is every term, idiom, and application that is counte- 
nanced by use to be esteemed good, and tlierefore worthy to 
be retained ! I answer, that though nothing in language can 
be good from which use withholds her approbation, there may 
be many things to which she gives it that are not in all re- 
spects good, or such as are worthy to be retained and imita- 
ted. In some instances cuslom may very properly be checked 
by criticism, which hath a sort of negative, and, though not 
the censorian power of instant degradation, the privilege of 
remonstrating, and by means of this, when used discreetly, 
of bringing what is bad into disrepute, and so cancelhng it 
gradually, but which hath no positive riglit to establish any- 
thing. Her power, too, is like that of eloquence ; she oper- 
ates on us purely by persuasion, depending for success on 
the solidity, or, at least, the speciousness of her arguments ; 
whereas custom hath an unaccountable and irresistible influ- 
ence over us, an influence which is prior to persuasion, and 
independent of it, nay, sometimes even in contradiction to it. 
Of diff"erent modes of expression, that which comes to be fa- 
voured by general practice may be denominated best, because 
cstabhshed ; but it cannot always be said with truth that it is 
established because best. And therefore, though I agree in 
the general principles maintained by Priestley* on this sub- 
ject, I do not concur in this sentiment as liolding universally, 
that " the best forms of speech will in time establish them- 
selves by their own superior excellence." Time and chance 
have an influence on all things human, and on nutiiing mure 
remarkably than on language ; insomuch that we often see 
diat, of various forms, those will recommend themselves and 
come into general use which, if abstractly considered, are 
iicithe- the simplest nor the most agreeable to the ear, nor 

' Preface to iho RiuJiinctitc of Eij^ii.'^h Giainmar. 


the most conformable to analogy. And though we canno 
say properly of any expression which has the sanction ol 
good use, that it is barbarous, we must admit that, in othei 
respects, it may be faulty. 

It is therefore, I acknowledge, not without meaning that 
Swift, in the proposal above quoted,* affirms that '• there are 
many gross improprieties wliich, though authorized by prac- 
tice, ouglit to be discarded." Now, in order to discard them, 
nothing more is necessary than to disuse them. And to bring 
us to disuse them, both the example and the arguments of 
llie critic will liave their weight. A very little attention wil) 
satisfy every reasonable person of the diflerence there is be- 
tween the bare omission, or, rather, the not employing of 
what is used, and the introduction of what is unusual. The 
former, provided what you substitute in its stead be proper, 
and have the authority of custom, can never come under the 
)bservation, or, at least, the reprejiension of a reader, where- 
as the latter slu;cks our ears inniiediately. Here, therefore, 
li-"S one principal province of criticism, to point out the char- 
acters of those words and idioms which deserve to be dis- 
franchised and consigned to perpetual oblivion. It is by 
carefully filing ofl" all roughnesses and inequalities that lan- 
guages, hke metals, must be polished. This, indeed, is an 
efi"ect of ta^te. And hence it liappeiis, tliat the first rudi- 
ments of taste no sooner appear in any people, tlian the lan- 
guage begins, as it were of itself, to emerge out of that state 
of rudeness iu whicli it will ever be found in uncivilized na- 
tions. As they improve in art and sciences, their speech re 
fines; it not only l)ecoines richer and more comprehensive 
hut acquires greater precision, perspicuity, and harmony 
This eflVct taste insensibly produces among the people long 
ber()r(! the language; becomes the object of their attention, 
liut when criticism hath called forth their attention to this 
ol)ject, there is a probability that the cfi'ect will be accelera- 

It is, however, no less certain, on the other hand, that in 
the declension of taste and science, language will unavoida- 
bly degenerate, and though the critical art may retard a lit- 
tle, it will never be able to prevent this degeneracy. 1 shall 
therefore subjoin a few remarks under the form of canons, in 
relation to those words or expressions which may be thought 
to merit degradation from the rank they have hitherto main- 
tained, submitting these remarks entirely, as everj'thing of 
the kind must be submitted, to the final determination of the 
impartial public. 


The first canon on this subject is, All words and plirases 

♦ For ascertaining ilie English tongue ; see the F-etter to the Lcvfl liigt 
■freRsiifer. • 


which are remarkably harsh and iinharmonious, and not ab 
solutely necessary, may justly be judged worthy of this fate 

I call a word or phrase absolutely necessary when we have 
no synonymous words, in the event of a dismission, to sup- 
pi}' its place, or no way of conveying properly the same 
idea without tlie aid of circumlocution. The rule, with this 
limitation, will, I believe, be generally assented to. The only 
difliculty is to fi.x the criteria by which we may discriminate 
Ihe f bnoxious words from all others. 

It may well be reckoned that we have lighted on one cri 
leriou, when we have found a decompound or term composed 
of words already compounded, whereof the several parts are 
not easily, and, therefore, not closely united. Such are the 
words bare-faced-ness, sliame-faced-ness, un-success-ful-ness, dis- 
inlcrest-cd-ncss, ivrong-head-ed-ncss, lender-heart-ed-ness. They 
are so heavy and drawling, and, withal, so ill-compacted, that 
they have not more vivacity than a periphrasis to compensate 
for tlie defect of harmonJ^ 

Another criterion is, when a word is so formed and ac 
cented as to render it of difficult utterance to the speaker, 
and, consequently, disagreeable in sound to the hearer. This 
happens in two cases : first, when the syllables which imme- 
diately follow the accented syllable are so crowded with con- 
sonants as, of necessity, to retard the pronunciation. The 
words questionless, chi-dniclers, convenficlers, concitpiscence, re- 
rnembrancer, are examples of this. The accent in all these 
is on the antepenultimate, for which reason the last two syl- 
lables ought to be pronounced quick ; a thing scarcely prac 
ticnble, on account of the number of consonants which occni 
in these syllables. The attempt to quicken the pronunciation 
tliough familiar to Englishmen, exhibits to strangers the ap 
pearance of awkward hurry, instead of that easy fluency tt 
be found in those words wherein the unaccented syllable? 
are naturally short. Such are livily, vanity, avidity, all ac- 
cented in like manner on the antepenultimate. The second 
case in which a similar dissonance is found is when too many 
syllables follow the accented syllable ; for, though these be 
naturally short, tlieir number, if they exceed two, makes a 
disagreeable pronunciation. Examples of this are the words 
primarily, cdrsorily, siimmarily, peremptorily, peremptoriness, vin- 
dicative ; all of which are accented on the fourth syllable from 
the end. It is to be wished that the use which now prevails 
in regard to the manner of accenting some words would al- 
ter, as we cannot afford to part with every term that is liable 
It) exception in this respect. Nor is a change here to be 
despaired of, since we find it hath happened to several words 
already, as the places which they occupy in ancient poetry 
sufficiently evince. 

A third criterion is when a short or unaccented syllable i* 


repeated, or followed by another short or unaccented syllahie 
veiy mucli resembling-. This always gives the appearance 
of stammering to the pronunciation. Such were the words 
hdlily, fdrrierins, silUlij. We have not many words charge- 
able with this fault ; naj- so early have the people been sensi- 
ble of the disagreeable s» und occasioned by such recurrencea^ 
that it would appear they have added the adverbial termina- 
tion to very few of our adjectives ending in ly. I believe 
there are no examples extant of heavenhly, gudlily, timelily, 
dailily. Johnson hath given us in his Dictionary the word 
lowlily, which is as bad as any of them, but without quoting 
authorities. In those and such like, the simple forms, as 
heavenly, godly, timely, daily, homely, courtly, comely, seem al- 
ways to have served both for adjective and adverb, though 
this too hath its inconvenience. It deserves our notice, that 
the repetition of a syllable is never offensive when either 
one or both arc long, as in papa, rwimma, inurmur, tartar, bar- 
barous, Uly. 

Besides the cases aforesaid, I know of none that ought to 
dispose us to the total disuse of words really significant. A 
little harshness by the collision of consonants, which, never- 
theless, our organs find no difficulty in articulating, and which 
do not suggest to the hearer the disagreeable idea either of 
precipitation or of stammering, are by no means a sufficient 
reason for the suppression of a useful term. The monosyl- 
lables yM</^V, drudg'd,grudg'd, which some have thought very 
oflensive, appear not in the least exceptionable, compared 
with the words above mentioned. It would not do well to 
introduce such hard and strong sounds too frequently; but 
when they are used sparingly and properly, they have even 
a good effect. Variety in sound is advantageous to a lan- 
cuage ; and it is convenient that we should have some sounds 
that are rough and masculine, as well as some that are liquid 
and feminine. 

I observe this the rather, because I think there is at pres 
ent a greater risk of going too far in refining than of not going 
far enough. The ears of some critics are immoderately del- 
icate. A late essayist,* one who seems to possess a consid- 
erable share of ingenuity and taste, proposes the utter extir- 
pation of encroach, encroachment, inculcate, purport, methin/cs, 
and some others, the precise meaning of which we have no 
single words in English that perfectly express. An ear so 
nice as to be hurt by these, appears to me in the same light 
as a stomach so squeamish as to nauseate our beef and beer, 
the ordinary food of the country. Such ears, I should say, 
are not adapted to our speech, nor such stomachs to our cli- 
mate. This humour, were it to become general, would give 

* Sketches by I auncelot Temple, Esq., of late republished and owned 
(■V Dr. ArmstronE 


3 very unfavourable aspect to the language ; and it might ad- 
mit a question whether, on such principles, if an expurgation 
of the vocabulary were attempted, there would remain one 
third of the whole stock that would not be deemed worthy 
of excision. This would be particularly inconvenient, i{ 
everybod}' were as much an enemy as this gentleman seems 
lo be to all newfashioned terms and phrases. We should 
hardly have words enough left for necessary purposes.* 


The second canon on this subject is. When etymology 
plainly points to a signification diflerent from that which the 
word commonly boars, propriety and simplicity both require 
its dismission. 

I use the word plainly, because, when the etymology is 
from an ancient or foreign language, or from obsolete roots 
in our own language, or when it is obscure or doubtful, no 
regard should be had lo it. The case is different when the 
roots either are, or strongly appear to be, English, are in 
present use, and clearly suggest another meaning. Of this 
kind is the word beholden for obliged or indebted. It should 

* I shall only observe here by the way, that those languages which are al- 
lowed to be themostsusceptibleol all the graces of harmony, have admitted 
many ill-sounding words. Such are in Greek a-KXayxyil^eaOai, Trpo^TdiQcY^aaOui, 
ty;^pi|j^9£if, «xaitoica, ixt^ijirifitvov. In the last two one finds a dissonant re- 
currence of the same letter to a degree quite unexampled with us. There 
is, however, such a mixture of long and short syllables, as prevents that 
difliculty of utterance which was remarked in some English words. Such 
are also, in Latin, dixisscs, spississimus, percrebrescebantque. The last of 
these words is very rough, and the first two have as much of the hissmg 
letters as any English word whatever. The Italian is considered, and I be- 
lieve justly, as the most musical of all languages, yet there are in it some 
sounds which even to us, accustomed to a dialect boisterous like our weath- 
er, appear harsh and jarrmg. Such are iucrocicchiare, sdmccioloso, spregiat- 
rice. There is a great difference between words which sound harshly, but 
are of easy pronunciation to the natives, and those words whii^h even to 
natives occasion difficulty in the utterance, and, consequently, convey some 
idea of awkwardness to the hearer, which is prejudicial to the design. 
There are, in the languages of all countries, many words which foreigners 
will find a difficulty in pronouncing that the natives have no conception of. 
The Greeks could not easily articulate the Latin terminations in ans and 
ens. On the other hand, there were many sounds in Greek which appeared 
intolerable to the Latins, such as words beginning with ^v, (pd, \p, jrr, «r, 
and many others. No people have so studiously avoided the collision of 
consonant! as the Italians. To their delicate ears, pt, ct, and cs otx, though 
belonging to different syllables, and interposed between vowels, are oHien- 
sive, nor can they easily pronounce them. Instead of apto, and kcto, and 
Alexandra, they niust say alto, and lelto, and Allessandro. Yet these very 
people begin some of their words with the three consonants sdr, which to 
our eais are perfectly shocking. It is not, therefore, so much harshness ol 
sound as difficulty of utterance that should make some words be rejected 
altogether. The latter tends to divert our attention, and, consequently, to 
obstruct the eflfect. The former hatb not this tendency, unless they be 
obtrjded on us too frequently. 


regularly be the passive participle of the verb to uthold, whic^l 
would convey a sense totally different. Not that I considei 
the term as equivocal, for in the last acceptation it hatn long 
fiince been disused, having been supplanted by beheld. But 
the formation of the word is so analogical as to make it have 
at least the appearance of impropriety when used in a sense 
Uial seems naturally foreign to it. The word beholding, to 
express the same thing, is still more exceptionable than the 
other, and includes a real impropriety, being an active form< 
with a passive signification. To vouchsafe, as denoting to 
condescend, is liable to a similar exception, and for that rea- 
son, more than for its harshness, may be dispensed with. 
Coaciion and coactive, as signifying compulsion and compulsive, 
though regularly deduced from the Latin coaclum, have so 
much the appearance of being compounded of the English 
words action and active, with the inseparable preposition co, 
which would give them a meaning quite different, that one 
can scarcely hear them without some tendency to mistake, 
the sense. The verb to unloose should analogically signify /.i 
tie, in like manner as to untie signifies to loose. To what pnr 
pose is it, then, to retain a term without any necessitj^ in a 
signification the reverse of that which its etymology mani- 
festly suggests ] In the same way, to a}mul and to disannul 
ought by analogy to be contraries, though irregularly used 
as synonymous. The verb to unravel, commonly, indeed, as 
well as analogically, signifies to disentangle, to extricate ; 
sometimes, however, it is absurdly employed to denote the 
contrary, to disorder, to entangle, as in these lines in the ad- 
dress to the goddess of Dulness, 

" Or quite unravel all the reasoning thread, 
And hang some curious cobweb in its stead."* 

All considerations of analogy, propriety, perspicuity, unite 
in persuading us to repudiate tliis preposterous application 


The third canon is. When any words become obsolete, or 
at least, are never used, e.xcept as constituting part of par- 
ticular phrases, it is better to dispense with their service en- 
tirely, and give up the phrases 

The reasons are, first, because the disuse in ordinary ca- 
ses renders the term somewhat indefinite, and occasions a 
degree of obscurity ; secondly, because the introduction of 
words which never appear but with the same attendants, 
gives the style an air of vulgarity and cant. Examples of 
tJiis we have in the words lit/, dint, ivhit, moot, pro, and con^ 
as, " I had as lief go myself," for " I should like as well to go 

♦ Dunciad, b. i. 


myself." " He convinced his antagonist ly dint of arffumtnt,''^ 
that is, " by strength of argument." " He made them yield 
by dint of arms'" — " by force of arms." " He is 7iot a whit bet- 
ter''' — " no better." '• The case you mention is a moot point'''' 
— " a disputable point." " The question was strenuously de- 
bated pro and con''''—''' on both sides." 


The fourth and last canon I propose is, All those phrases 
which, when analyzed grammatically, include a solecism, and 
all those to which use hath affixed a particular sense, but 
which, when explained by the general and established rules 
of the language, are susceptible either of a different sense or 
of no sense, ought to be discarded altogether. 

It is this kind of phraseology which is distinguished by the 
epitliet idiomalical, and hath been originally the spawn partly 
of ignorance and partly of affectation. Of the first sort, which 
includes a solecism, is tlie phrase, " I had rather do such a 
thing," for " I would rather do it." The auxiliary had, joined 
to the infinitive active do, is a gross violation of the rules of 
conjugation in our language, and though good use may be 
considered as protecting this expression from being branded 
wiih the name of a blunder, yet, as it is both irregular and 
unnecessary, I can foresee no inconvenience that will arise 
from dropping it. I have seen this idiom criticised in some 
essay, whose name I cannot now remember, and its origin 
very naturally accounted for, by supposing it to have sprung 
from the contraction /V, whicli supplies the place both of 7 
had and of / ivould, and which had been at first ignorantly 
resolved into / had when it ought to have been I would. The 
phrase, thus frequently mistaken, hath come at length to es- 
tablisli itself and to stand on its own foot.* 

Of the second sort, which, when explained grammatically, 
leads to a diff'erent sense from what the words in conjunction 
commonly bear, is, " He sings a good song," for " he sings 
well." The plain meaning of the words as they stand con- 
nected is very dilTerent, for who sees not that a good song 
may be ill sung ] Of the same staniji is, " He plays a good 
fiddle," for "he plays well on the fiddle." This seems also 

* Whether, with Johnson and Lowlh, we should consider the phrases by 
this means, by that means, it is a vieans, as liable to the same erception, ia 
perhaps more doubtful. Priestley considers the word means as of both num- 
bers, and of such nouns we have several examples in the language. But it 
may be objected, that as the singular form inenn is still frequently to be met 
with, this must inevitably give to the above phrases an appearance of sole- 
cism in the judgment of those who are accustomed to attend to the rules 
of syntax. But, however this may induce such critics to avoid the ex- 
pression in question, no person of taste, I presume, will venture so far to 
violate the present usage, and. consequently, to shock the ears of the gen 
n.-ality of "-oaders, as to sav " B'v this mean" or " By that mean." 


to involve a solecism. We speak, indeed, of piaying a tune 
but it is always on the instrument. 

Nothinjj can be more common or less proper than to speah 
of a river's emplijing ilself. Dr. Johnson, in his Dictionary 
explains the verb to empty, as importing to evacuate, to exhaust. 
Among his authorities we have this sentence from Arbuthnot. 
' The Euxine Sea is conveniently situated for trade, by tlie 
rommunication it has with Asia and Europe, and the great 
navigable rivers that empty themselves into it." Passing the 
tt'onl rivers as a metonymy for their channels, are these ever 
* evacuated or exhausted V To say a river falls into the .sea, 
or a ship falls down the river, is entirely proper, as the mo- 
lion is no other than a fall down a real though gentle declivity. 

Uiider tlie third sort, which can scarcely be considered as 
.iterally conveying any sense, may be ranked a number of 
vile, but common phrases, sometimes to be found in good 
authors, like shooting at rovers, having a month's mind, currying 
favour, dancing attendance, and many others. Of the same 
kind, also, though not reprehensible in the same degree, is 
the idiomatical use that is sometimes made of certain verbs, 
as stand for insist : " He stands upon security ;" take for un- 
derstand, in such phrases as these : " You take me," and " as 
I take it ;" hold for continue, as '• he does not hold long in one 
mind." But of all kinds, the worst is that wherein the words, 
when construed, are susceptible of no meaning at all. Such 
an expression as the follow ing, " There were seven ladies ii 
the com[)any, every one prettier than another," by which it 
is intended, I suppose, to denote that they were all very 
pretty. One prettier implies that there is another less pret- 
ty, but where every one is prettier, there can be none less, 
and, consequently, none more pretty. Such trash is the 
disgrace of any tongue. Ambitiously to display nonsensical 
phrases of this sort, as some writers have affected to do, un- 
der the ridiculous notion of a familiar and easy manner, is 
not to set off the riches of a language, but to expose its rags. 
As such idioms, therefore, err alike against purity, simplicity, 
perspicuity, and elegance, they are entitled to no quarter from 
the critic. A few of these, in the writings of good authors, 
I shall have occasion to point out w hen 1 come to speak ol 
the solecism and the impropriety. 

So much for the canons of verbal criticism, w hich properly 
succeed the characters of good use, proposed in the prece- 
ding chapter for the detection of the most flagrant errors in 
the choice, the construction, and the application of words. 
The first five of these canons are intended to suggest the 
principles by which our choice ought to be directed in cases 
wlurcin use ili^elf is wavering; and the last four ^o point out 
lliO!<e farther improvements which the critical art, without 
Lxcerding her legal powers, niav assist in producing Tlier* 


nre, indeed, who seem disposed to extend her authori y much 
firther. But we ought always to remember, that as the 
principal mode of improving a language, which she is em- 
powered to employ, is by condemning and exploding, there 
is a considerable danger lest she carry her improvements 
this way too far. Our mother-tongue, by bemg too much im- 
paired, maybe impoverished, and so more injured in copious- 
ness and nerves than all our refinements will ever be able to 
compensate. For this reason, there ought, in support of ev- 
ery sentence of proscription, to be an evident plea from the 
principles of perspicuity, elegance, or harmony. 

If so, the want of etymology, whatever be the opinion of 
some grammarians, cannot be reckoned a sufficient ground 
for the suppression of a significant term which hath come 
into good use. For my part, I should think it as unreasona- 
ble to reject, on this account, the assistance of an expressive 
word which opportunely offers its service, when perhaps no 
other could so exactly answer my purpose, as to refuse the 
needful aid of a proper person because he could give no ac- 
count of his family or pedigree. 'I'hough what is called cant 
IS generally not necessarily, nor always without etymology, 
it is not this defect, but the baseness of the use which fixeth 
on it that disgraceful appellation. No absolute monarch hath 
it more in his power to nobilitate a person of obscure birth, 
than it is in the power of good use to ennoble words of low 
or dubious extraction ; such, for instance, as have eithei 
arisen, nobody knows how, like^^, banter, bigot, fop, flippant 
among the rabble, or, V\ke Jlimsi/, sprung from the cant ol 
manufacturers. It is never from an attention to etymology, 
which would frequently mislead us, but from custom, the 
only infallible guide in this matter, that the meanings ot 
words in present use must be learned. And, indeed, if the 
want in question were material, it would equally affect all 
those words, no inconsiderable part of our language, whoso 
descent is doubtful or unknown. Besides, in no case can 
the line of derivation be traced backward to infinity. We 
must always terminate in some words of wliose genealogy 
no account can be given.* 

» Dr. Johnsun, who, notwithstanding his acknovvleclged learning pene 
tration, and ingenuity, appears sometimes, if I may adopt his own eipres- 
sion, " lost in lexicography," hath declared the name punch, which signifies 
a certain mixed liqnor very well known, a cant word, because, being to ap 
pearance without etymology, it hath probably arisen from some silly con- 
ceit among the people. The name sherbet, which signifies another known 
mixture, he allows to be good, because it is Arabic ; though, for aught we 
know, Its origin among the Arabs hath been equally ignobk; or uncertain. 
By this way of reckoning, if the word punch, in the sense wherein we use 
it, should by any accident be imported into Arabia, and come into use there, 
it would make good Arabic, though it be bu. cant P-nglish; as their sherbet. 
though in all likelihood but cant Arabic, makes good English. This. ' 
">wn, appeaib to me very capricious. 


It ought, at the same time, to be observed, that what hath 
been said on this topic rehites only to such words as bear no 
dist'nguisliable traces of the baseness of their source ; the 
case is quite diflerent in regard to those terms which maybe 
said to proclaim their vile and despicable origin, and that ei- 
ther by associating disagreeable and unsuitable ideas, as bel- 
'ytimber, thoruwstilch, dumbfound; or by betraying some frivo- 
lous humour in the formation of them, as transmogrify, bam- 
boozle, topsyturvy, petlmell, hclterskeltcr, Jiurlyburly. These 
ma}' all find a place in burlesque, but ought never to show 
themselves in any serious performance. A person of no 
birth, as the phrase is, may be raised to the rank of nobility, 
and, which is more, may become it ; but nothing can add dig- 
nity to that man, or fit him for the company of gentlemen, 
who bears indelible marks of the clown in his look, gait, and 
whole behaviour. 



It was remarked formerly,* that though the grammatical 
irt bears much the same relation to the rhetorical which the 
art of the mason bears to that of the architect, there is one 
very memorable difference between the two cases. In archi- 
tecture it is not necessary that he who designs should exe- 
cute his own plans ; he may, therefore, be an excellent artist 
in this way who has neither skill nor practice in masonry ; 
on the contrary, it is equally incumbent on the orator to de- 
sign and to execute. lie ought, therefore, to be master of 
the language which he speaks or writes, and to be capable 
of adding lo grammatic purity those higher qualities of elocu- 
tion which will give grace and energy to his uiscourse. I 
propose, then, xa the first place, by way of laying the found- 
ation,! to consider that purity which he hath in common with 
the grammarian, and then proceed to consider those qualities 
of speech which are peculiarly oratorical. 

It was also observed before,^ that the art of the logician is 
universal, the art of the grammarian particular. By consc 
qucnce, my present subject being language, it is necessary 
lo make choice of some particular tongue, to which the ob- 
servation to be made will be adapted, and from which the il- 

* Chap. ii. 

f " Sol wtnqniileinet quasi fundamentumoraloris, vides locutionein emeu- 
datam et Laiuiain." — Cic, De Ctar. Onit. The sanio holds equally of any 
Wnguage which the orator is obliged to iisp. 1 Book i . chap. iv. 


lustrations to be produced will be taken. Let English be 
that tongue. This is a preference to which it is surely enti- 
tled from those who write in it. Pure English, then, implies 
three things : first, that the words be English ; secondly, that 
their construction, under which, in our tongue, arrangement 
also is comprehended, be in the English idiom ; thirdly, that 
the words and phrases be employed to express the precise 
nieaniufy which custom hath affixed to them. 

From the definition now given, it will be evident, on re- 
flection, that this is one of those qualities of which, thougli 
tlie want exposes a writer to much censure, tlie possession 
hardly entitles him to any praise. The truth is, it is a kind 
of negative quality, as the name imports, consisting more in 
an exemption from certain blemishes than in the acquisition 
of any excellence. It holds the same place among the vir 
tues of elocution that justice holds among the moral virtues. 
The more necessary each is, and the more blamable the 
trauogression is, the less merit has the observance. Grace 
and energy, on the contrary, are like generosity and public 
spirit. To be deficient in these virtues is not treated as crim- 
inal, but to be eminent for the practice of them is accounted 
meritorious. As, therefore, in what regards the laws of pu- 
rity, the violation is much more conspicuous than the observ 
ance, I am under the disagreeable necessity of taking my il- 
lustrations on this article solely from the former. 

Purity, it was said, implies three things. Accordingly, in 
three difierent ways it may be injured. First, the words used 
may not be English. This fault hath received from gram- 
marians the denomination of barharism. Secondly, the con- 
struction of the sentence may not be in the English idiom. 
This hath gotten the name of solecism. Thirdly, the words 
and phrases may not be employed to express the precise 
meaning which custom hath affixed to them. This is termed 
impropriety * 



The reproach of barbarism may be incurred by three diffei 
cnt ways : by the use of words entirely obsolete, by the use 
of words entirely new, or by new formations and composi 
tions from simple and primitive words in present use. 

Part I. By the Use of Obsolete Words. 
Obsolete words, though they once were English, are no* 
BO now ; though thev were both proper and expressive in the 

* Quintilian halh suggested this distribution. — Inslit., lib. i., cap. v. 
' Deprehendat q'las barbara, qu ?. impropria, quse contra legem loqucndi 
composiiii " 



days or* our forefathers, are become as strange to our ears m 
many parts of their garb would be to our eyes; and if so, 
such words have no more title than foreign words to be in- 
troduced at present ; for though tliey are not so totally un- 
known as to occasion obscurity, a fault which I shall con- 
sider afterward, their appearance is so unusual, and their 
form is so antiquated, that, if not perfectly ridiculous, they 
at least suggest the notion of stitTness and aflV;ctation. We 
ought, therefore, not only to avoid words that are no longer 
understood by any but critics and antiquaries, such as /tight, 
clcped, uneath, erst, whilom ; we must also, when writing in 
prose and on serious subjects, renounce the aid of those 
terms which, though not unintelligible, all writers of any 
name have now ceased to use. Such Me behest, fantasy, trib- 
ulation, erewhilc, whenas, peradvcnture, selfsame, anon. All 
tliese oftend more or less against the third criterion of good 
use formerly given,* that it be such as obtains at present. 

Some indulgence, however, on this, as well as on several 
other articles, as was hinted already, must be given to poet? 
on many accounts, and particularly on account of the pecu- 
liar inconveniences to which the laws of versification sul)ject 
them. Besides, in treating some topics, passages of ancient 
story for example, there may be found sometimes a suitable- 
ness in the introduction of old words. In certain kinds of 
style, when used sparingly and with judgment, they serve to 
add the venerable air of aiUiquily to the narrative. In bur- 
lesque, also, they often produce a good effect. But it is ad- 
mitted on all sides, that this species of writing is not strictly 
subjected to the laws of purity. 

Part II. By the Use of New Words. 

Another tribe of barbarisms much more numerous is cor; 
stunted by new words. Here, indeed, the hazard is mor* 
imminent, as the tendency to this extreme is more prevalent. 
Naj', our language is in greater danger of beijig overwhelm- 
ed by an inundation of foreign worda than any other species 
of destruction. There is, doubtless, some excuse for bor- 
rowing the assistance of neighbours, when their assistance is 
really wanted — that is, when we cannot do our business wiili- 
out it; but there is certainly a meanness in choosing to be 
indebted to others for what we can easily be supplied with 
out of our own stock. When words are introduced by any 
writer from a sort of necessity, in order to avoid tedious and 
languid circumlocutions, there is reason to believe they will 
soon be adopted by others convinced of the necessity, and 
will at length be naturalized by the public. But it 's 'o be 
wished that the publ tc would ever reject those which are ob 

• Boftk ii., chap. i.. sect. iii. 


trudcd on it merely through a licentious affectation of nov- 
elty. And of this kind certainly are most of the words and 
phrases which have, in this century, been imported from 
France. Are not pleasure, opinionalive, and sally, as expres 
sive as volvply, '^piniatre, and sortie ? Wherein is the expres- 
sion last resort inferior to dernier resort ; liberal arts to beaux 
arts ; and polite literature to belles lettres 1 Yet some writers 
have arrived at such a pitch of futility as to imagine that if 
Ihey can but make a few trifling changes, like aimahle for 
amiable, poli/esse for politeness, delicatesse for delicacy, and 
hauteur for haughtiness, they have found so many gems which 
are capable of adding a wonderful lustre to their works. 
With such, indeed, it is in vain fo argue ; but to others, who 
are not quite so unreasonable, 1 beg leave to suggest the fol- 
lowing remarks. 

First, it ought to be remembered that the rules of pronun 
elation and orthography in French are so different from those 
which obtain in Knglish, that the far greater part of the 
French words lately introduced constitute so many anoma- 
lies with us, which, by loading the grammatical rules with 
exceptions, greatly corrupt the simplicity and regularity of 
our tongue. 

Nor is this the only way in which they corrupt its sim- 
plicity ; let it be observed farther, that one of the principal 
beauties of any language, and the most essential to sim- 
plicity, results from this : that a few plain and primitive 
words, called roots, have, by an analogy which hath insen- 
sibly established itself, given rise to an infinite number of 
derivative and compound words, between which and the 
primitive, and between the former and their conjugates, there 
is a resemblance in sense, corresponding to that which there 
is in sound. Hence it will happen that a v.ord may be very 
emphatical in the language to which it owes its birth, arising 
from the light that is reflected on it by the other words of the 
same etymology, which, when it is transplanted into another 
language, loses its emphasis entirely. The French word 
cclaircisscment, for instance, is regularly deduced thus : Eclair- 
cissement, eclaircisse, eclaircir, eclair, clair, which is the ety- 
mon, whence are also descended clairement, clarte, clarifier, 
clarification, eclairer. The like may be observed in regard to 
connoisseur, reconnoitre, argremens, and a thousand others ; 
whereas such words with us look rather like strays than like 
any part of our own property. They are very much in thb 
condition of exiles, who, having been driven from their fam- 
ilies, relations, and friends, are compelled to take refuge in 
a country where there is not a single person with whom they 
can claim a connexion, either by blood or by alliance. 

But the patrons of this practice will probably plead that, 
as the French is the finer language, ours must certainb' bo 


Improved by the mixture. Into the truth i)f the hypothesia 
from which they argue, I shall not now inquire. It sufficeth 
for my present purpose to observe, that the consequence is 
not logical, though the plea were just. A liquor produced 
by the mixture of t.wo liquor? of different qualities will often 
prove worse than either. The Greek is, doubtless, a language 
much superior in richness, harmony, and variety to the 
Latin ; yet, by an affection in the Romans of Greek words 
and idioms (like the oassion of the Knglish for whatever is 
imported from France), as much, perhaps, as by anything, 
the Latin was not only vitiated, but lost almost entirely, in a 
few centuries, that beauty and majesty which we discover in 
the writings of the Augustan age. On the contrary, nothing 
contributed more to the preservation of the Greek tongue in 
its native purity for such an amazing number of centuries, 
unexampled in the history of any other language, than the 
contempt ihey had of this practice. It was in consequence 
of this contempt tliat they were the first who branded a for- 
eign term in any of their writers with the odious name of 

Dut tlicre are two considerations which ought especially 
to weigh with authors, and hinder them from wantonly ad- 
mitting such extraneous productions into their performances. 
One is, if these foreigners be allowed to settle among us, 
they will infallibly supplant the old inhabitants. Whatever 
ground is given to the one, is so much taken from the other. 
Is it, then, prudent in a writer to foment a humour of inno- 
vation which tends to make the language of his country still 
more changeable, and, consequently, to render the style of 
his own writings the sooner obsolete ? Nor let it be imagin- 
ed that this is not a necessary consequence. Nothing can 
be juster than Johnson's maimer of arguing on this subject, 
in regard to what Swift a litlle chimerically proposeth, that 
though new words be introduced, none should be permitted 
to become obsolete.* For what makes a word obsolete but a 
general, though tacit, agreement to forbear it ? and what so 
readily produces this agreement as another term which hath 
gotten a vogue and currency, and is always at hand to supply 
its place ! And if thus, for some time, a word is overlooked 
or neglected, how shall it be recalled when it halh once, by 
disuse, become unfamiliar, and, by unfamiliarity, unpleasing ! 

The other consideration is, that if he should not be follow 
ed in the use of those foreign words which he hath endeav 
oured to usher into the language, if they meet not with a f.i- 
vourable reception from the public, they will ever appear as 
spots in his work. Such is the appearance which the terms 
opine, ignore, fraicheur, adroitness, opiniatry, and opinialrely. 
have at present in the writings of some ingenious men 
* I'riMj ■ \(i the Dictionary. 


Whetner, therefore, he be or be not imitated, he will hlmselj 
prove a loser at last. I might add to these, that as borrow- 
ing naturally exposeth to the suspicion of poverty, this pov 
erty will much more readily, and more justly too, be imputed 
to the writer than to the language. 

Inventors in the arts and discoverers in science have an 
indisputable title to give names to their own inventions and 
discoveries. When foreign inventions and discoveries are 
imported into this island, it is both natural and reasonable 
that the name should accompany the thing. Nay, in regard 
even to evils of foreign growth, I should not object to the 
observance of the same rule. Were any one to insist that 
we have not in our language words precisely corresponding 
to the French galimatias, phebiis, verbiage, gasconade, rhodo- 
monlade, I should not contend with him about it ; nor should 
I, perhaps, dislike that the very name served to show that 
these plants are natives of a ranker soil, and did not originally 
belong to us. But if the introduction of exotic words were 
never admitted except in such cases, or in order to supply 
an evident want among ourselves, we should not at present 
have one such term where we have fifty. The advice of the 
poet with regard to both the before-mentioned sorts of bar- 
barism is extremely good. 

"In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold — 
Alike fantaslic if loo new or old : 
Be not the lirst by whom the new are tried, 
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside."* 

Part III. By the Use of Good Words new-modelled. 

The third species of barbarism is that produced by new 
formations and compositions from primitives in present use. 
I acknowledge, that when the English analogy is observed 
in the derivation or composition, and when the new-coined 
word is wanted in the language, greater liberty ought to be 
given on this article than on the former. The reason of the 
difference will appear from what hath been said already. 
But still, this is a liberty which needs an excuse from neces- 
sity, and is in no case pardonable, unless the words be at 
least not disagreeable to the ear, and be so analogically form- 
ed that a reader, without the help of the context, may ea- 
sily discover the meaning.f 

Now, if the plea of necessity be requisite, what quarter is 
due to such frivolous innovations as these : incuinbermenl,^ 

* Pope's Essays on Criticism. 

t There are some words of recent introduction which come so much 
under this description, that it might be accounted too fastidious in the critic 
entirely to reject them. Such are continental, sentimental, originality, crimi 
nality, capability, to originate, to figure, to adduce, and, perhaps, a few otheri 

t Bolingbroke. 

R 2 


pnilic* mar/i/rized* eitchanshj* analyse* conncxily* Sloictan,* 
Platoivcian* Pcripatetician* Pytha^orician* ficlious,\ majesta- 
lic,X a(cepliuH,^ vviiich were intended solely to express what 
had always l)ccn at least as well expressed by encumberance, 
portico, nmrti/r'd, eucharisl, analysis, connexion. Stoic, Platonist, 
Peripatclic, Pytha<^(>rcan, fictitious, majestic, acceptation. And 
if any regard is due to the ear, what shall we say of — I can- 
not call it the composition, but — the collision of words which 
are naturally the most unfit for coalescing, like saintauthors, 
samtprotectrices, archilectcapacily, commcntatorcapacity , author- 
c/iaracler, and many others forged in the same taste, to b« 
found in the pages of a late riglit-honourable author T|| And, 
liistly, if the analogy of the language must be preserved in 
coiuposition, to what kind of reception are the following en 
tilled, all fabricated in the same shop : sdfcnd, sel f passion, self- 
jffeclions, silfpraclice, homcdialect, bellysense, mirrourwriting ? 

It may, indeed, be urged, that the pronoun self is used in 
composition with such latitude, that one can scarcely err in 
forming new wonls with its assistance. But this is a mis 
take. iNew words may be formed by it, but they must be 
formed analogically. And the analogy of these formations 
may be understood from observing that, when analyzed thus, 
tliey ought regularly to cxiubit the same meaning. Make 
one's SI ll\ liimscif, herself, itself, or tliemselics, as the case re- 
(}iiires, follow the last word in the compound, with the prep- 
osition intervening, with which the word, whether noun or 
participle, is usually construed. If the word be a substantive, 
the preposition is commonly of; if the passive participle,/*//; 
and if the active participle, no preposition is requisite. Thus 
self-love is the lore of one's self In the same way are resolv- 
ed self hale, self-murder, self-prescrralion. When we say of a 
man that he is self condemned, we mean that he is condemned 
by himself A sclf-consumim;- fire is a fire consuming itself. 

Now to apply iliis observation, what is the meaning of /Ae 
end of one's seif, the passion of one's self, the affections of one's 
self, and /he practice of one'' s self? And if some meaning may 
be aflixed to any of iiiese expressions, it is easy to perceive 
that it is not the meaning of the author. Yet 1 can remem- 
l)er but two compounds that have obtained in Knglish which 
arc not formed according to the analogy above ex|)lained. 
'The t)ne is se'.f-a-illcd, signifying /^^'r/toT, and now little used ; 
the other is self existence, n favourite word of some metaphy- 
sicians, which, if it signify anything more than what is prop- 
erly and clearly expressed by independency and eternity, sig- 
nilics 1 know not what. In new formations, however, the 
rule ought to be followed, and not the exceptions. But what 
jsiiall be said of such monsters as selfpractice, bellysense, and 

* Holingbroke. t Prior. % Spectator, No .'W. 

i) Hammond. II Shaltesbiirv. 


mvrr mrwriling 1 These, indeed, might have been regarded a« 
flowers of rhetoric in the days of Cromwell, when a jargon 
of this sort was much in vogue, but are extremelj' unsuitable 
to the chaster l-inguage of the present age. 

Again: under this class may be rr.nked another modern 
refinement — I mean the alterations that have been made by 
some late writers on proper names and some other words of 
foreign extraction, and on their derivatives, on pretence of 
bringing them nearer, both in pronunciation and in spelling, 
o the original names, as they appear in the language from 
which those words were taken. In order to answer this im- 
portant purpose, several terms which have maintained their 
place in our tongue for many centuries, and which are known 
to everybody, must be expelled, that room may be made for 
;i set of uncouth and barbarous sounds with which our ears 
are unacquainted, and to some of which it is impossible foi 
us to adapt our organs, accustomed only to English, as right- 
ly to articulate them. 

It has been the invariable custom of all nations, as far as I 
know — it was particularly the custom of the Grecians and 
the Romans, when they introduced a foreign name into their 
language, to make such alterations on it as would facilitate 
the pronunciation to their own people, and render it more 
analogous to the other words of their tongue. There is an 
evident convenience in this practice ; but where the harm of 
it is, I am not able to discover. No more can I divine what 
good reason can be alleged for proscribing the name Zoroas- 
ter, till of late universally adopted by English authors who 
had occasion to mention that Eastern sage, and the same, 
except in termination, that is used in Greek and Latin clas- 
sics. Is Zerdushl, which those people would substitute in its 
place, a more musical word 1 or is it of any consequence to 
us that it is nearer the Persian original? Will this sound 
give us a deeper insight than the other into the character, the 
philo.sophy, and the history of the man? On the same prin- 
ciples, we are commanded by these refiners to banish Confu- 
cius for the sake of Con-fut-cee, and never again, on pain of 
the charge of gross ignorance, to mention Mahomet, Mahomet- 
an, Mahometism, since Mohammed, Mohammedan, Mohammed- 
ism, are ready to supply their room. Mussulman must give 
place to Moslem, Hegira to Hejra, and Alkoran to Koran. The 
dervis, too, is turned to dirvesh, and the bashaw is transformed 
into a pacha 

But why do our modern reformers stop here 1 Ought not 
this reformation, if good for anything, to be rendered more 
extensively useful? How much more edifying would Holy 
Writ prove to readers ol every capacity, if, instead of those 
vulgar corruptions, Jacob, and Judah, and Moses, and Elijah^ 
ive had the •o.\'.,\>5a.-uon to find in our Bibles, as some assure 


US tlial the words ought to be pronounced, Yagnhakoh. and 
Yehuda, and Muschech, and FAiyaliu ? Nay, since it seems to 
L)e agreed among our Oriental scholars that the Hebrew ^od 
sounds like the English w before a vowel, and that their vau 
is the same with the German w, the word Jehovah ought also 
to be exploded, that we inay henceforth speak of the Deity 
more reverently and intelligibly by the only authentic name 
Yihowah. A reform of this kind was, indeed, for the benefit 
of the learned, attempted abroad more than two centuries ago, 
by a kindred genius of those modern English critics, one Pag- 
ninus, a Dominican friar. In a translation which this man 
made of tlie JScriptures, into a "'^••^ o'' monkish gibberish that 
he called Latin, he hath, in order to satisfy the world of the 
vast importance and utility of his work, instead oi Eve, writ- 
ten Chauva, and for Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezckiel, given us Jesaki 
a/iu, Inmiahu, Jcchezechcl. Hut 1 know not how it hath hap- 
pened that in lliis he hath had few imitators among men of 
letters. Probably, upon the trial, people have discovered that 
they were just as much edified by the old names as by the 

Again : why this reformation should be confined almost en 
iirely to proper names, for my part I can discover no good 
reason. Appellatives are doublh^ss entitled to a share. Crit- 
ics of this stamp ought, for example, boldly to resolve, in 
spite of inveterate abuses and plebeian prejudices, never, while 
they breathe, either to write or to pronounce the words pope, 
popei-';, .'.iii popedom, but instead of them, pape, papery, and 
papedom; smce, whether we derive these words immediately 
from the French,* the Latin,t or the Ureek.J still it appears 
that the o is but a base usurper of a place which rightfully be- 
longs to the a. The reason assigned for saying Koian, and 
not Alcoran, is truly curious. Al, say the}% is the Arabic ar- 
ticle, and signifies the ; consequently, if we should say the Al- 
coran, we should fall into a gross perissology. It is just as if 
we said the /he book. A plain, illiterate man would think it 
sufficient to reply, What though al signifies the in Arabic, it 
hath no signification in English, and is only here the first 
syllable of a name which use hath appropriated, no matter 
how, to a particular book. But if yc who are such deep 
scholars, and wonderful improvers of your mother-tongue, 
are determined to exclude this harir.less syllable from Alco- 
ran, act at least consistently, and dismiss it also from alchi/- 
my, alcove, alembic, algebra, almanac, and all the other words 
in the language that are derived in the same way and from 
the same source. Indeed, it is not easy to say where ye will 
stop ; for if ye attend to it, ye will find many words of Latir 
or French origin which stand equally in need of reformation.^ 

* Pape. t Papa. X hittkh. 

4 Suppose one of these Aristarclis advanclnij in such irRe:j*tiis rehnn 


It is necessary to add, that if the public give way tu a liu- 
inour of this kind, there will be no end of innovating. vVhei; 
Rome critics first thought of reforming the word bashmc, one 
would have it bassa, another pacha, and a third pasha; and 
how many more shapes it may yet be transformed into, it is 
impossible to say. A late historiographer hath adopted just the 
half of Sale's reformation of the name Mahomet. He re- 
stores tile vowels to the places which they formerly held, but 
admits his alteration of the consonants, never writing eithei 
Mahomet or Mahammed, but Mahommed. In regard to such 
foreign names of persons, ofticers, eras, and rites, it would be 
obliging, in writers of this stamp, to annex to their works a 
glossary, for the sake of the unlearned, who cannot divine 
whether their newfangled terms belong to tilings formerly un- 
known, or are no more than the old names of things familiar 
to them newly vamped and dressed. Surely, if anything de- 
serves to be branded with the name of pedantry, it is an os- 
tentation of erudition, to the reproach of learning, by affect- 
ing singularuy in tritles. 

1 shall just mention another set of barbarisms which also 
comes under this class, and arises from the abbreviation of 
polysyllables, by lopping oft" all the syllables except the first, 
or tiie first and second. Instances of this are hyp for hypochon- 
driac, rep for repulation, iilt for ultimate, penult for penullimate, 
incog for incognito, hyper for hypercritic, extra for extraordina- 
ry. Happily, all these aflected terms have been denied the 
public suffrage. I scarcely know any such that have estab- 
lished themselves, except mob for mobile ;* and this it hath 

merits, and thus criticising on the word aversion; "This substantive is by 
divers authors diversely construed. Some say aversion to a cliange, others 
aversion from a change ; !)olh, 1 affirm, from a blind attachment to vernacu- 
lar idioms, have alike deviated into the most ugly and deformed faults. 
This judgment, how severe soever, I am able to support by an irrefragable 
argument. Aversion, according to its etymology, denotes turning from. The 
first syllable, a, is, in the original language, a preposition signifying/rom. It 
would, therefore, be absurd to conjoin in the same phrase with it the prepo- 
sition to, which hath a contrary signification ; and to use /row after aversion 
would render the e.xpression hideously pleonastic. In defiance, therefore, 
of a habitude, which, however ancient and universal, is the offspring of ig 
norance, we must, if we would speak correctly, either say aversion a change, 
the first syllable a having the force of the preposition, or, cutting olT this 
preposition, we must say version from a changK." If any should think this 
representation exaggerated, let him compare the reasoning with that which 
hath been seriously used for mutilating the word Alcoran, and he will find 
it in all respects the same. It is, I acknowledge, of no consequence wheth 
er we say Alcoran or Koran, but it is of consequence that such a silly ai 
gument shall not be held a sufficient ground for innovation. 

♦ As I am disposed to think that, in matters of this kind, the public ia 
r.nrely in the wrong, it would not be difficult to assign a plausible rea=onfot 
^his preference. First, the word mobile, from which it is contracted, can 
scarcely be called Knglish, and, I suspect, never had the sanction of the 
public voice. Secondly, there is not another word in the language that ex- 
'TossPth preci.sely the same idea, a tumultuous and seditiou) 'cut- the word* 


afTectcJ at, notwithstanding the unrelenting zeal with 
whicii it was persecuted by Dr. Swift wherever ho met with 
it. But as the word in question hath gotten use, the supremo 
arbitress of language, on its side, there would be as much ob- 
stinacy in rejecting it at present, as there was perhaps folly 
at first in ushering il upon the public stage. 

As to the humour of aljbreviating, we need say very little, 
as it seems hardly now to subsist among us. It only arose 
in this island about the end of the last century; and when, ir 
liie beginning of the present, it assumed to figure in conver- 
sation, and even sometimes to appear in print, it was so warm- 
ly attacked by Addison and Swift, and other writers of emi- 
nence, that since then it hath been in general disgrace, hard- 
ly daring to appear in good company, and never showing it- 
self in books of any name. 

The two classes of barbarisms last mentioned, compre- 
hending new words and new formations from words still cur- 
rent, otleiid against use, coiL-^idercd both as reputable and as 
national. There are many otiier sorts of transgression which 
might be enumerated here, such as vulgarisms, jniovincial 
idioms, and the cant of particuhir professions, hut these are 
more commonly ranked among the offences against elegance 
than among the violations of grammatical purity, and will 
therefore be considered afterward. 



I NOW enter on the consideration of the second way by 
whicii llie purity of the style is injured, the solecism. This 

s accounted by grammarians a much greater fault than the 
former, as it displays a greater ignorance of the fundamental 
rules of the language. Tiie sole aim of grammar is to con- 
vey the knowledge (jf the language; consequently, the de- 
gree of grammatical demerit in every blunder can only be 
ascertained by the degree of deficiency in this knowledge 
which it betrays. But the aim of eloquence is quite another 
thing. The speaker or the writer doth not purpose to dis- 
[)lay his knowledge in the language, but only to employ the 

anguage which he speaks or writes, in order to the attain- 
ment of some farther end. This knowledge he useth solely 
as the instrument or means by which he intends to instruct, 
to please, to move, or to persuade. The degree of demerit, 
therefore, which, by the orator's account, is to be found in 

molnliti/. adopted by some writers, is a gross misapplication of the philo- 
sophical term, wlutli means only s^usceptibttily of molion ; lastly, the word 
mob is fitter than either of those for givmg rise, according to the analogy ol 
our tonijue, to such convenient derivitives a to mob, nmbhed, tnobbiah 


every bhinder, must be ascertained by a very different meas- 
ure. Such offence is more or less heinous, precisely in pro- 
portion as it proves a greater or smaller obstruction to the 
speaker's or writer's aim. Hence it happens, that when sol- 
ecisms are not very glaring, when they do not darken the 
sense, or suggest some ridiculous idea, the rhetorician re- 
gards them as much more excusable than barbarisms. The 
reason is, the former is accounted solely the effect of negli- 
gence, the latter of affectation. Negligence in expression, 
often the consequence of a noble ardour in regard to the sen- 
timents, is at the worst a venial trespass, sometimes it is 
even not without energy ; affectation is always a deadly sir. 
against the laws of rhetoric. 

It ought also to be observed, that in the article of solecisms 
much greater indulgence is given to the speaker than to the 
writer ; and to the writer who proposeth to persuade or move, 
greater allowances are made than to him who proposeth bare- 
ly lo instruct or please. The more vehemence is required by 
the nature of the subject, the less correctness is exacted in 
the manner of treating it. Nay, a remarkable deficiency in this 
respect is not near so prejudicial to the scope of the orator 
as a scrupulous accuracy, which bears in it the symptoms uf 
study and art. ^schines is said to have remarked, that the 
orations of his rival and antagonist Demosthenes smelled of 
the lamp ; thereby intimating that their style and composi- 
tion were too elaborate. If the remark is just, it contains 
the greatest censure that ever was passed on that eminent 
orator. But as the intermediate degrees between the two ex- 
tremes are innumerable, both doubtless ought to be avoided. 

Grammatical inaccuracies ought to be avoided by a writer 
for two reasons. One is, that a reader will much sooner dis- 
cover them than a hearer, however attentive he be. The 
other is, as writing implies more leisure and greater coolness 
than is implied in speaking, defects of this kind, when dis- 
covered in the former, will be less excused than they would 
be in the latter. 

To enumerate all the kinds of solecism into which it is 
possible to fall v/ould be both a useless and an endless task. 
The transgression of any of the syntactic rules is a sole- 
cism ; and almost every rule may be transgressed in various 
wavs. But iis novices only are capable of falling into the 
mos; flagrant solecisms, such, I mean, as betray ignorance 
in the rudiments of the tongue, I shall leave it to grammari- 
ans to exemplify and class the various blunders of this sort 
which may be committed by the learner. All I propose to 
do at present is to take notice of a few less observable, which 
writers of great name, and even cf critical skill in the lan- 
guage, have slidden into through inattention ; and which 

204 THE PHILOSOPHY cp rhetoric. 

though of the nature of solecism, ought, perhaps, to be dis- 
tint^uished by the softer name inaccuracy * 

The first of this kind I shall observe is a mistake of the 
plural number for the singular: "The zeal of the seraphim 
breaks forth in a becoming warmth of sentiments and ex- 
pressions, as the character which is given us of him denotes 
ihat generous scorn and intrepidity which attends heroic vir- 
tue."! Cherub and seraph are two nouns in the singular 
number, transplanted into our language directly from the 
Hebrew. In the plural we arc authorized both by use and 
by analogy to say either cherubs and seraphs, according to the 
English idiom, or cherubim and seraphim, according to the 
Oriental. The former suits better the familiar, the latter the 
solemn style. It is surprising that an author of Mr. Addison's 
discernment did not, in criticising Milton, take notice of a 
(lisiinction which is everywhere so carefully observed by the 
poet. I shall add to this remark, that, as the words cherubim 
and seraphim are pliUMJ, the terms c/-^rubims and seraphims,iis> 
expressing the plural, are quite in. )roper. Yet these bar- 
barisms occur sometimes in our tianslation of the Bible; 
whicli, nevertheless, dotii not once adopt the plural form 
cherubim and seraphim to express the singular, though one 
would naturally imagine that this error must originally have 
given rise to the oilier. 

Inaccuracies are often found in the way wherein the de 
grees of comparison are applied and construed. Some of 
these, I suspect, have as yet escaped the animadversion of 
all our critics. Before I produce examples, it will be proper 
to observe, that the comparative degree implies commonly a 
comparison of one thing with one other thing ; the superla- 
tive, on the contrary, always implies a comparison of one 
thing with many others. Tiie former, consequently, require? 
to be followed by the singular number, the latter by the plu- 
ral. In our language, the conjunction thaii must be inter- 
posed between the things compared in the former case, the 
preposition f>/"is always used in the latter. 

The following is an example of wrong construction in the 
jomparative : " Tiiis noble nation hath of all others admitted 

*■ I am sensible that, in ^vh.^t concerns the subject of this section, I havo 
been in a great measure prerenled by the remarks of Lowih and Priestley, 
and some other critics and grammarians, who have lately favoured the 
\vorkl with their observations. Since reading their publications, I have 
curtailed considerably what I prepared on this article; for, though I liad 
larely liit upon the same examples, there was often a coincidence in Iho 
matter, inasmuch as the species of fault animadverted on was frequently 
the same. I have now almost entirely conlineil myself to such slips as 
have been overlooked by others I say almoxt cniirdy ; for, when any error 
l)egins to prevail, even a single additional remonstrance may be of conse 
quence ; and in points in which critics are divided, I thoupht it not unrea 
i'jiiable to ofTur my opinion t S;)ectator. No. 327 


feicer corruptions."* The word fetver is here construed pre- 
cisely as if it were tlie superlative. Grammatically thus 
" This noble nation hath admitted fewer corruptions than any 
other.'''' Sometimes, indeed, the comparative is rightly fol- 
lowed by a plural ; as in these words, " He is wiser than we." 
But it cannot be construed with the preposition of before 
hat to which the subject is compared. There is one case, 
and but one, wherein the aforesaid preposition is proper af- 
ter the comparative, and that is, when the words i'oUovv- 
ing the preposition comprehend both sides of the compari- 
son ; as, " He is the taller man of the two." In these words, 
the two, are included he and the person to whom he is com- 
pared. It deserves our notice, also, that in such cases, and 
only in such, the comparative has the definite article the pre- 
fixed to it, and is construed precisely as the superlative ; nay, 
both degrees are in such cases used indiscriminately. We 
say rigiitly, either " This is the weaker of the two," or " the 
weakest of the two." If, however, we may form a judgment 
from tlie most general principles of analogy, the former is 
preferable, because there are only two things compared. 

I shall subjoin to this an inaccuracy in a comparison of 
equality, where, though the positive degree only is used, the 
construction must be similar to that of the comparative, both 
being followed by conjunctions which govern no case. " Such 
notions would be avowed at this lime by none but Rosicru- 
cians, and fanatics as mad as them."f Grammatically thci/, 
the verb are being understood. 

That the particles as after the positive, and than after the 
comparative, arc conjunctions, and not prepositions, seems 
never to have been questioned by any grammarian or critic 
before Dr. Priestley. I readily acknowledge that it is use 
which must decide the point ; nor should I hesitate a moment 
in agreeing to the notion he suggests, if it were supported 
by what could be justly denominated general and reputable 
use. Biit to me it is manifest that both the most numerous 
and the most considcrabic authorities are on the opposite 
side ; and therefore, that those instances which he produceth 
in favour of that hypothesis ought to be regarded merely as 
negligences of style, into which (as I shall have occasion to 
observe more fully in the sequel) even the best writers will 
sometimes fall. That in the colloquial dialect, as Johnson 
calls it, such idioms frequently occur, is undeniable. In con- 
versation you will perhaps ten times oftener hear people 
say, " There's the books you wanted," than " There are the 
books ;" and " You was present," when a single person is 
addressed, /than "You were present." Yet good use is al- 
ways considered as declaring solelj' for the last mode of ex- 

■• Swift's Mechanical Operslions. ^ Roliiighn ke's Ph Fr., 24. 



pression in both cases. The argument drawn from the French 
usage (which, by-the-way, hath no authority in our tongue) 
is not at all apposite.* 

But, supposing good use were divided on the present ques- 
tion, I acknowledge that the first and second canons proposed 
on this subject! would determine nie to prefer the opinion 
of those who consider the aforesaid particles as conjunctions. 
The first directs us in doubtful cases to incline to that side 
in which there is the least danger of ambiguity. In order to 
;llustratc this point, It will be necessary to observe, tiiat the 
doubt is not properly stated by saying, with Dr. Priestley, 
that the question is whether the nominative or accusative 
ought to follow the particles limn and as, but whether these 
particles are, in such particulnr cases, to be regarded as con- 
junctions or prepositions ; for, on either supposition, it must 
be admitted, that in certain circumstances the accusative 
ought to follow, and not the nominative. But I insist that, 
as ui such cases there is a dificrence in the sense, uniformly 
to consider those particles as conjunctions is the only way of 
rcniovmg the ambiguity. Thus I say properly, " 1 esteem 
you more than they." I say properly, also, " I esteem you 
more than thcni," but in a sense quite difierent. If than is 
understood as a conjunction, there can be nothing ambiguous 
in either sentence. The case of the pronoun determines at 
once the words to be supplied. The first is, " I esteem you 
more than they esteem you.'''' The second is, " 1 esteem you 
more than 1 esteem them." But this distinction is confound- 
ed if you make llian a preposition, which, as in every instance 
it will require the oblique case, will, by consequence, render 
the expression equivocal. For this reason, 1 consider that 
quotation from JSniollet (who is, by-the-by, the only authority 
alleged on this question), " Tell the cardinal that I under- 

* The ol)lique cases of their personal pronouns, answering to our me,ihfe 
and Aim, are, me, tc, and le, not vwi, lot, and iui. In these last we- have tiio 
indefinite form, which serves inditierently, as occasion requires, for either 
nominative or accusative, and to which there is nothing m our language 
that exactly corresponds. 'I'hus. to express ia French " He and I are rela- 
tions," we must say '• Liii et moi, nous sommes parens." Hut in English, 
" Iliin and me, we are relations." would be msuflerable. The noininalive 
)V, in, il, are never used by them but when immediately adjoined to the verb, 
prefixed in afiirming, or aflixed in interrogating. In every other situation 
the i.'idctiiiite form must sup[)ly their place. Le Clcrc thus renders a pas- 
sage of Scripture (Rev., i., Is), " Moi qui vis presentcmeiit, j'ai cte mort." 
Hut w.hj that understands English would say, " Me who live at present, 
i have been dead .'" Let this serve also as an answer to the plea for these 
vulgar but unauthorized idioms, Il is me, it is him, from the C'est nmi, c'eti 
hi, of the Frenc'i. I shall observe, in passing, that one of Priestley's quo- 
tations in support of these phrases is defensible on a dilVerent lyinciple, and 
therefore not to his purpose. " It is not me you are in love with." 'l'h« 
me is here governed by the preposition with. " It is not with me you aro ifi 
Vi'^e." Such transpositions ave frequent in our language. 

'' Book ii . chap. ><., sect. i. 


fctand poetry better than him," as chargeable not so much 
with inaccuracy as with impropriety. The sense it express- 
eth is clearly, " I understand poetry better than I understand 
him." But this is not the sense of the author. The second 
canon leads directly to the same decision, as it teacheth ud 
to prefer vvliat is most agreeable to analogy. Now that is 
always most repugnant to analogy which tends most to mul- 
tiply exceptions. Consequently, to consider the particles 
employed in this manner, of stating a comparison, as con- 
junctions (which they are universally admitted to be in every 
other case), is more analogical than to consider them as chan- 
ging their usual denomination and character in such instances. 

But to proceed : incorrectness in using the superlative de- 
gree appears in the subsequent quotation : " The vice of cov- 
etousiiess is what enters deepest into the soul of any other.''''* 
An instance of the same fault I shall give from a writer ol 
no small merit for harmony and elegance. " We have a pro- 
fession set apart for the purposes of persuasion, wherein a 
talent of this kind would prove the lilicltest, perhaps, of any 
olher.'''j 1 do not here criticise on the word o//ier in those 
examples, which, in my opinion, is likewise faulty, after the 
superlative; but this fault comes under another category. 
The error I mean at present to point out is, the superlative 
followed by the singular number, •' the deepest of any other," 
" the likeliest of any other." We should not say " the best 
of any man," or " the best of any other man," for " the best 
of men." We n>ay indeed say " He is the oldest of the fam- 
ily ;" but the word family is a collective noun, and equiva- 
lent to all in the house. In like manner, it may be said, " The 
eyes are the worst of his face." But this expression is evi- 
dently deficient. The face is not the thing with which the 
eyes are compared, but contains the things with which they 
are compared. The sentence, when the ellipsis is supplied, 
stands thus : " Of all the features of his face, the eyes are the 

Both the expressions above censured may be corrected by 
siibstituting the comparative in room of the superlative. 
" The vice of covetousness is what enters deeper into the 
soul than any other ;'" and " We have a profession set apart 
for the purposes of persuasion, wherein a talent of this kind 
would prove likelier, perhaps, than any other."' It is also pos- 
sible to retain the superlative, and render the expression 
grammatical. '• Covetousness is what of all vi<:es enters the 
deepest into the soul ;" and " wherein a talent of this kind 
would perhaps, of all talents, prove the likeliest.'''' 

In the following example we have a numeral adjective, 
which dotii not belong to any entire word in the sentence aa 

• (i'l.iiil.i'i. No. IJ t I'iiz OslKun's lietters. b. i.. 1. 24 


its substantive, but to a part of a word. " Tlie first projec* 
was to shorten discourse by cutting polysyllables into one."* 
The term one relates to sijUable, a part of the word polysyl- 
lables. This is quite ungranmialical. Tlie expression is 
likewise exceptionable on the score of propriety, but of this 

There is an error of the same kind in the following pas- 
sage fiom Addison : "My Christian and surname begin and 
end with the same letters. "t The word Christian is here an 
adjective, which hath for its substantive the last syllable of 
tlie word surname. The expression is also exceptionable on 
ilie score of perspicuity, of which afterward. 

Sometimes the possessive pronoun does not suit the ante- 
cedent. '■'Each of the sexes." says Addison, "should keep 
within its particular bounds, and content themselves to exult 
within their respective districts. '"J Thrmsch-es and their can- 
not grammatically refer to each, singular. Besides, the tres- 
pass here is the more glaring, that these pronouns are coupled 
with its referring to the same noun. 

In no part of spcrech do good writers more frequently fall 
into mistakes than in the verbs. Of these I shall give some 
specimens out of a much greater number which might be col- 
lected. The first shall be of a wrong tense : " Ye xviil not come 
unto me that ye mii^ht have life/"'5> In two clauses thus con- 
nected, when the first vcb is in tlie present or the future, the 
second, which is dependant on it, cannot be in the past. The 
words, tlierefore, ought to have been translated, " that ye 
mm/ have life." On the contrary, had the first verb been in 
the preterit, the second ouglit to have been so too. Thus, 
" Ye icould not come to me," or " Ye did not come to me, 
that ye might have life," is entirclj' grammatical. In either 
of these instances, to use the present tense would be errone- 
ous. Wiien the first verb is in the preterperfect, or the pres- 
ent perfect, as some call it, because it hath a reference both to 
liic past and to the present, the second, I imagine, may be in 
either tense. Thus, " Ye have not come to me that ye might 
— or that ye mai/ — have life," seem equally unexceptionable. 

Let it be observed, that in expressing abstract or universal 
truth, the present tense of the verb ought, according to the 
idiom of our language, and perhaps of every language, al- 
ways to be employed. In such cases, the verb in that form 
has no relation to time, but serves merely as a copula to the 
two terms of the proposition. The case is different with the 
past and tlie future, in which the notion of time is always com- 
prehended. Yet this peculiarity in the present hath some- 
times been overlooked, even by good authors, who, when 
speaking of a past event which occasions the mention of the 

* Voyage to Laputa. t Spectator, No. 505. O. 

t Freeholder. No. 3S. '5 John, v., 40 


same general truth, are led lo use the same tense in eiuimer 
atingthe general truth, with that which had been employed in 
the preceding part of the sentence. Of this we have the fol- 
lowing example from Swift, which sliall serve for the second 
instance of inaccuracy in the verbs. " It is confidently re- 
ported that two young gentlemen of real liopes, bright wit, 
and profound judgment, who, upon a thorough examination 
of causes and effects, and by the mere force of natural abil- 
Uies, without the least tincture of learning, have made a dis- 
covery that there was no God, and generously communica- 
ting iheir thoughts for the good of the public, were some time 
ago, by an unparalleled severity, and upon I know not what 
obsolete law, broke for blasphemy."* Properly, " Have 
made a discovery that there is no God.*' 

The third example shall be of a wrong mood. " If thou 
bring thy gift to the altar, and there remcmherest that thy 
brother hath aught against thee.'-f The construction of the 
two verbs bring and remcmbercsl ouglit to be the same, as 
they are botli under the regimen of the same conjunction if. 
Yet the one is in the subjunctive mood, and the other in the 

The fourth instance shall he the omission of an ess(;ntial 
part of one of the complex tenses, the writer apparently re- 
ferring to a part of the verb occurring in a former clause of 
the sentence, although the part referred to will not supply 
the defect, but some other part not produced. Of this the 
following is an example : " I sliall do all I can to persuade 
others iotake the same measures for their cure which I liavc."'\ 
Here we have a reference in the end to the preceding verb 
lake. Vet it is not the word take which will supply the sense, 
but taken. This participle, therefore, ought to have been 

The fifth specimen in the verbs shall be of a faulty refer- 
ence to a part to be mentioned. " This dedication may serve 
for almost any book that has, is, or shall be published." Has 
in this place being merely a part of a complex tense, meana 
nothing without the rest of the tense ; yet the rest of the tense 
IS not to be found in the sentence. We camiot say " any 
book that has published,'''' no more can we say " that has be pub' 
Uslied.^'' Corrected it would run thus, " that has been or shall 
be published.'''' The word is ought to be expunged, as adding 
nothing to the sense. 

I shall next produce a few instances of inaccuracy whi(;h 
result from coupling words together, and assigning to them 
'. common regimen, when use will not admit that they bs 
cunslrued in the same manner. The following is an example 
in the construction of adjectives : " Will it be urged that the 

* An Argument against abolishing Christianity. 
+ Matt., v.. P,'^. t Guardian, Nr.. 1 



four Gospels are as old, or even older, than tradition !"* Thh 
words as old and older cannot have a common regimen ; the 
one requires to be followed by the conjunction as, the other 
by than. If he had said " as old as tradition, and even older,'''' 
there would have been no error. Tiie comparative, in this 
case, is not construed with the preceding words, but with 
words whicli, being ascertained by the preceding, are proper- 
ly enough understood. 

I shall exemplify the same inaccuracy in the construction 
of verbs. "It requireth few talents to witich most men are 
not horn, or, at least, may not acquire.'''] Admitting that the 
words to whick are rightly construed witli the passive parti- 
ciple born, they cannot be construed v/ith the active verb ac- 
quire ; for it ought to be noted, that tiie connexion between 
the preposition and the noun or pronoun governed by it is so 
intimate that there cannot be a reference to the one without 
the other. The last clause, therefore, ought to run thus, "or 
which, at least, they may not acquire." The repetition of the 
relative makes the insertion of the personal pronoun neces- 

There is an error of the same kind in the sentence follow 
ing : " The Court of Chancery frequently mitigates, and breaks 
the teeth of the common law. 'J What is the regimen of the 
active verb miligates ? Regularly it ought to be, the teeth oj 
the common law, as these words make the regimen of the other 
active verb breaks, with which the former is coupled. But as 
tiiis manner of construing the sentence would render the ex- 
pression higlily improper, if not nonsensical, it is evidently 
the author's view that the verb mitigates should be construed 
with these words the com?non law, which, being in construc- 
tion with the preposition of (or, as some would call it, in tiie 
genitive), cannot serve grammatically as the regimen of an 
active verb. 

" (iive the Whigs," says the candid Dean of St. Patrick's 
" but power enough to insult their sovereign, engross his fa- 
vours to tliemselves, and to oppress and plunder their fellow- 
subjects, they presently groiv into good humour and good lan- 
guage towards the crown. "i^ I do not like much grow into 
good humour for growing good-humoured, but grow into good 
language is insufferable. 

i shall add to these an instance in the syntax of nouns. 
" There is never wanting a set of evil instruments, who, 
either out of mad zeal, private hatred, or filthy lucre, are al- 
wiys ready. "11 We say properly, " A man acts out of mad 
zeal or out of private hatred ;" but we cannot say, if wc would 
speak English, " he acts out of filthy lucre.'''' He ought, there- 

♦ Bolingb. Phil., Es. iv., s. xix. t Swift »« Conversation. 

i Spectator, No. 5C1. <) Examiner, No. 35 

II Swift's Sermon on False Witness. 


fore, to have substituted in the place of the last two words 
the term avarice, or love of filthy lucre, either of which ex- 
pressions would have been rightly construed with the prepo- 

Of the same kind nearly is the following specimen in the 
government of a substantive : " There is one that will think 
herself obliged to double her kindness and caresses of me."* 
The word kindness requires to be followed by either /o or/or, 
and cannot be construed with the preposition vf. 

We often find something irregular in the management of 
the prepositions; for instance, in the omission of one alto- 
gether: " He lamented the fatal mistake the world had been 
so long in using silk-worms. ''f Another in is necessary to 
complete the construction, whether we suppose the in men- 
tioned to belong to the preceding words or to the succeeding. 
But as it would have sounded harshly to subjoin another tn 
immediately after the former, it would have been better to 
give the sentence another turn ; as, " He lamented the fatal 
mistake in which the world had been so long, in using silk- 
worms. "J 

We have a similar omission, though not of a preposition 
\n the expression following: "That the discoursing on poli- 
tics shall be looked upon as dull as talking on the weather."^ 
Syntax absolutely requires that the sentence in this form 
should have another as immediately before the first. At the 
same time, it must be owned that this would render the ex- 
pression very inelegant. This dilemma might have been 
avoided by giving another turn to the concluding part, as 
thus " — shall be looked upon as equally dull with talking on 
the weather." 

Of an error in a wrong choice of a preposition, these words 
of the same author will furnish an example : "The greatest 
masters of critical learning differ among one another.'"^ Had 
he said " differ among themselves,'''' the expression would have 
been faultless. But the terms themselves and one another, 
though frequently synonymous, rarely admit the same con- 
struction. We cannot say "one diff'ers among another;'''' but 
we may say "one differs /rom another,^'' or ''■with another;'''' 
the former to express a difference in opinion, the latter a 
quarrel or breach. It ought, therefore, to have been, in the 
above-cited passage, " differ from one another.'''' 

I shall only add an instance or two of inaccuracy in the 
conjunctions and the adverbs ; first, in the conjunctions : "A 
petty constable will neither act cheerfully or wisely."^ Prop- 
erly, " act neither cheerfully nor wisely." Neither cannof 
grammatically be followed by o-'. 

* Spect., No. 490, T. t Voyage to Laputa. 

X Voyage to Laputa. i) FreeholJer, No. 3P 

II Siiectator. No. 321. If Swift's Free Thoughts, <S:c 


An example of incorrectness in the adverbs you havt* iv 
the passage following: " Lest I sliould by charged f(.r being 
worse than my word, I shall endeavour to satisfy my reader 
by pursuing my method proposed ; if peradventure he can call 
to mind what that method was."* The adverb peradvenlurt, 
expressing a degree of evidence or credibility, cannot regu- 
larly be construed with the hypothetical conjunction if. Il 
is only to affirmations and negations, and not to bare suppo- 
sitions, that all the adverbs denoting certainty, probability, 
or possibility properly belong. 

The following passage in the common version of the Bible 
is liable to the same censure : " Micaiah said. If thou certainly 
return in peace, then hath not the Lord spoken by me."t 
The translators in this, as in some other places, have been 
misled by a well-meant attempt to express the force of a 
Hebraism, which in many cases cannot be expressed in our 

I shall conclude this article with a quotation from an ex- 
cellent author, of which, indeed, it would not be easy to say 
in what part the solecism may be discovered, the whole pas- 
sage being so perfectly solecistical. " As he tha* would 
keep his house in repair must attend every little br.*ach or 
flaw, and supply it immediately, else time alone '«'il bring 
all to ruin, how much more the common accident." <t//' storms 
and rain ] He must live in perpetual danger o*^ LiS house 
falling about his ears ; and will find it cheaper ^n throw it 
quite down, and build it again from the ground, puliaps upon 
a new foundation, or at least in a new form. A-hich may 
neither be so safe nor so convenient as the old 'I It is im 
possible to analyze this sentence grammatiodl y, or to say 
whether it be one sentence or more. It seem.*, by the con- 
junction 05, to begin with a comparison, but v e have not a 
single hint of the subject illustrated. Besides, the intro- 
ducing of the interrogation, How much moic ] after else, 
which could be regularly followed only by an affirmation or 
negation, and the incoherency of the next clause. He must 
live, render it, indeed, all of a piece. 

So much for the solecism, of which examples might be 
multiplied almost without end. Let those produced suffice 
for a specimen. It is acknowledged that such negligences 
are not to be considered as blemishes of anv moment in a 
work of genius, since those, and even wor.'<e, may be dis- 
covered, on a careful examination, in the j iiost celebrated 
writings. It is, for this reason, acknowledge J also, that it is 

♦ Shaftesbury, vol. iii., Misc. ii., ch. iii. 

t 2 Chron., xviii.. 27. Saci, in his Frencli transla'i^',!. hatb expressed 
the sense of the original with more simplicity and rcpri>*'y . " Mich4« 
repartit, SivousrevenezenpaiK.le Seisineur Ji'a point f ;ile par"»ali'i"<h9. 

X Project for the .Advancement of Uelision, last se incf 


neiLlicr candid nor judicious to form an opinion of a book 
from a few such specks, selected, perhaps, from the distant 
parts of a large performance, and brought into our view at 
once ; yet, on the other hand, it is certain that an attention 
to these little things ought not to be altogether disregarded 
by any writer. Purity of expression hath but a small shar' 
of merit; it hath, however, some share. But it ought espe- 
cially to be remembered, that, on the account of purity, a 
considerable part of the merit discovered in the other virtues 
of elocution, to which it contributes, ought undoubtedly to 
be changed. The words of the language constitute the ma- 
terials with which the orator must work ; the rules of the 
language teach him by what management those materials 
are rendered useful. And what is purity but the right using 
of the words of the language by a careful observance of the 
rules 1 It is, therefore, justly considered as essential to all 
the other graces of expression. Hence not only perspicuity 
Hnd vivacity, but even elegance and animation, derive a lustre 



I COME now to consider the third and last class of faults 
against purity, to which I give the name of impropriety. The 
barbarism is an offence against etymology, the solecism 
against syntax, the impropriety against lexicograph3^ The 
business of the lexicographer is to assign to every word of 
the language the precise meaning or meanings which use 
hath assigned to it. To do this is as really a part of the 
grammarian's province, though commonly executed by a 
different hand, as etymology and syntax. The end of every 
grammar is to convey the knowledge of that language of 
whicli it is the grammar. But the knowledge of all the 
rules, botli of derivation, under which inflection is included, 
and of construction, nay, and of all the words in the language, 
is not the knowledge of the language. The words must be 
known, not barely as sounds, but as signs. We must know 
to what things respectively they are appropriated. Thus, 
in our own tongue we may err egregiously against propriety, 
lind, conseqently, against purity, though all the words we 
employ be English, and though they be construed in the 
English idiom. The reason is evident : they may be misap- 
plied ; they may be employed as signs of things to which 
use hath not affixed them. This fault may be committed 
either in single words or in phrases. 

Part I. Impropriety in Single Words. 

I begin with single words. As none but those who are 
• -osslv Ignorant of our tongue can misapply the words that 


have no afliiiily to tliose whose place they are mii/le to cc 
cupy, I shall take notice only of such improprieties as h} 
some resemblance or proximity, in sound or sense, or both. 
a writer is apt unwarily to be seduced into. 

It is by proximity in sound that several are misled to use 
the word observation for obserrance, as when they speak of the 
religious observation of a festival for the religious observ- 
ance of it. Both words spring from the root observe, but in 
(lifTereni significations. When to observe signifies to remi*n, 
the verbal noun is observation ; when it .signifies to obei/ or to 
keep, the verb is observance. 

By a similar mistake, endurance hath been used for dura- 
lion, and confounded with it, whereas its proper sense is pa- 
licnce. It is derived from the active verb to endure, which 
signifies to suffer, and not from the neuter, which signifies to 
last. In the days of Queen Klizabeth, the word endurance 
was synonymous with duration, whereas now it is in this ac- 
ceptation obsolete. Nay, even in a later period, about the 
middle of the last century, several words were used synony 
mously which we now invariably discriminate. Such are 
the terms state and estate, property and propriety, import and 
importance, conscience and consciousness, arrant and errant. 

Human and Inimnne arc sometimes confounded, though the 
only authorized sense of the former is, bclonginfr to man ; of 
the latter, kind and compassionate. Humanly is improperly put 
for liiimancly in these lines of Pope. 

•' Though learn'd, well-bred ; and though well-bred, sincere ; 
Modestly bold, and humanly severe."* 

The abstract humanity is equally adapted to both senses. 

By an error of the same kind with the former, the adjec- 
tives ceremonious and ceremonial are sometimes used promis- 
cuously, though by the best and most general use they are 
distinguished. They come from the same noun ccremonie, 
which signifies both n form of civility and religious rite. The 
epithet expressive of the first signification is ceremonious, ol 
the second ceremonial. 

The word construction serves as the verbal noun of two 
different verbs, to construe and to construct. The first is a 
grammatical term, relating solely to the disposition of words 
in a sentence ; the second signifies io fabricate or build. The 
common relation in which the two verbs stand to the samo 
appellative hath misled some writers to confound them ; so 
far, at least, as to use improperly the word construct, and 
speak of constructing instead of construing a sentence ; for I 
have not observed the like misapplication of the other verb. 
We never hear of construing a fabric or machine. 

Acaiemician is frequently to be found in Bulingbrokc'a 

* Kssav on Criticism. 


works for academic. The former denotes solely, with us, a 
nioinber of a French academy, or of one established on a 
similar footing ; the latter a Platonic philosopher, one of that 
sect which took its denomination from the Grecian academy, 
or, more properly, from the grove of Academus, where the 
principles of that philosophy were first inculcated. 

13y a like error, the words sophist and sophister are some- 
times confounded ; the proper sense of the former being a 
leacher of philosophy in ancient Greece, of the latter, a spe- 
cious but false reasoner. " To demean one's self" has been 
improperly used by some writers, misled by the sound of the 
second syllable, for " to debase one's self," or " to behave 
meanly," whereas the verb to demean implies no more than 
the verb to behave. Both require an adverb, or something 
equivalent, to enable them to express whether the demear 
our or behaviour is good or bad, noble or mean. 

E'er, a contraction of the adverb ever, hath, from a resem- 
blance, or, rather, an identity \n sound, been mistaken for the 
conjunction ere, before ; and, in like manner, it's, the genitive 
of the pronoun it, for 'tis, a contraction of it is. 

In the same way, bad is sometimes very improperly used 
for hade, the preterit of the word bid, and sate for sat, the pre- 
terit of sit. The only proper use of the word bad is as a 
synonyma for ill ; and to sate is the same in signification as 
to glut. 

The word genii hath by some writers been erroneously 
adopted for geniuses. Each is a plural of the same word ge- 
nius, but in different senses. "When genius in the singular 
means a separate spirit or demon, good or bad, the plural is 
genii; when it denotes mental abilities, or a person eminent- 
ly possessed of these, the plural is geniuses. There are some 
similar instances in our tongue of different plurals belonging 
to the same singular in different significations. The word 
brother is one. The plural in modern language, when used 
literally for male children of the same parent Or parents, is 
brothers ; when used figuratively for people of the same pro- 
fession, nation, religion, or people considered as related by 
sharing jointly in the same human nature, is brethren. An- 
ciently this last term was the only plural. 

I shall next specify improprieties arising from a similitude 
in sense, into which writers of considerable reputation have 
sometimes fallen. Veracili/ you will find, even among such, 
applied to things, and used (or reality ; whereas, in strict pro- 
priety, the word is only applicable to persons, and signifies 
not physical, but moral truth. 

• There is no sort of joy," says Dr. Burnet,* " more grate 
ful to the mind of man than that which ariseth from the »>*. 

* Theory of the Earlh, b. i., ch. i 


venlion of truth." For invention he ought to have said rfu 

Epithet liath been used corruptly to denote title or appella- 
tion, whereas it only signifies some attribute expressed by an 

In the same way, verdict hath been made to usurp the place 
of testimonij ; and the word risible hath of late been perverted 
from its original sense, which is capable of laughing, to denote 
ridiculous, laughable, or fit to be laughed at. Hence these new- 
frangled phrases risible jests and risible absurdities. The 
proper discrimination between risible and ridiculous is, that 
the former hath an active, the latter a passive signification. 
Thus we say, " Man is a risible animal" — " A fop is a ridicu- 
lous character." To substitute the former instead of the lat- 
ter, and say " A fop is a risible character," is, I suspect, no 
better English than to substitute the latter instead of tiie for- 
mer, and say " Man is a ridiculous animal." In confirmation 
of this distinction, it may be farther remarked, that the ab- 
eitract risibility, which analogically ought to determine the 
import of the concrete, is still limited to its original and ac- 
tive sense, the /acw//y of laughter. Where our language hath 
provided us with distinct names for the active verbal and 
the passive, as no distinction is more useful for preventing 
ambiguity, so no distinction ought to be more sacredly ob- 

But to proceed : the word together often supplies the place 
of successively, sometimes awkwardly enough, as in the fol- 
lowing sentence : " I do not remember that I ever spoke 
three sentences together in my whole life."* The resem- 
blance which continuity in time bears to continuity in place 
is the source of this impropriety, which, by-the-way, is be- 
come so frequent, that I am doubtful whether it ought to be 
included in the lunnber. Yet, should this application gen- 
erally obtain, it would, by confounding things different, oft 
en occasion ambiguity. If, for example, one should say 
" Charles, William, and David live together in the same 
house," in order to denote that William immediately suc- 
ceeded Charles, and David succeeded William, every one 
would be sensible of the impropriety. But if such a use of 
the word be improper in one case, it is so in every case. 

By an error not unlike, the word everlasting hath been em 
ployed to denote time without beginning, though the only 
proper sense of it be time without end ; as in these words, 
" From everlasting to everlasting thou art God."t It may 
farther be remarked of this term, that the true meaning is so 
strongly marked in its composition, that very frequent use 
will not bo sufficient to prevent ilie misapplication from ap 

* Spect , No. 1. + Ps. xc, 2. 


pearing awkward. I think, besides, that there is a want of 
correctness in using the word substantively. The proper ex- 
pression is, " From eternity to eternity thou art God." 

Apparent for certain, manifest (as it has been sometimes 
employed by a very eminent author, the late Lord Littleton), 
is often equivocal, and can hardly ever be accounted entirely 
proper. Both etymology and the most frequent use lead ua 
so directly to the signification seeming <is opposed to real, or 
tnsible as opposed to concealed, that at first we are always in 
hazard of mistaking it. For the same reason, I do not like 
the phrase to make appear (though a very common one) for to 
prove, to evince, to show. By the aid of sophistry a man may 
make a thing appear to be what it is not. This is very differ- 
ent from showing what it is. 

Abundance, in the following quotation, is, I imagine, im- 
properly used for a great deal. " I will only mention that 
passage of the buskins, which after abundance of persuasion, 
you would hardly suffer to be cut from your legs."* 

The word due, in the citation subjoined, is not only im- 
properly, but preposterously employed. " What right the 
first observers of nature and instructers of mankind had to 
Ihe title of sages, we cannot say. It was due, perhaps, more 
to the ignorance of the scholars than to the knowledge of 
the masters."! The author hath doubtless adopted the word 
due in this place as preferable, at least, to the word owing, 
which, though an active participle, is frequently, and, as some 
think, inaccurately employed in a passive sense. Thus, in 
order to avoid a latent error, if it be an error, he hath run 
into a palpable absurdity ; for what can be more absurd than 
to say that the title of sages is due more to ignorance than 
to knowledge? It had been better to give the sentence an- 
other turn, and to say, " It took its rise, perhaps, more from 
the ignorance of the scholars llian from the knowledge of 
the masters." 

I shall add the improper use of the word surfeit in the fol- 
lowing quotation from Anson's Voyage round the World : 
" We thought it prudent totally to abstain from fish, the few 
we caught at our first arrival having surfeited those who ate 
of them. "J I should not have mentioned — indeed, I should 
not have discovered -this impropriety in that excellent per- 
formance, which would have passed with me for an expres- 
sion somewhat indefinite, had it not been for the following 
passage in a late publication : " Several of our people were 
so much disordered by eating o. a very fine-looking fish, 
which we caught here, that their recovery was for a long 
time doubtful. The author of the account of Lord Anson'.s 

• Swift's Examiner, No. 27. t Bolinb. Phil.. Es. ii snr.t. L 

t Ansoti's Voyage, ^ iii., c. li. 


Voyage says, that the people on board the Centurion thougti' 
it prudent to abstain from fish, as the few which they caugh* 
at their first arrival surfeited those who ate of them. BuJ 
not attending sufficiently to this caption, and too hastily ta- 
king the word surfeit in its literal and common acceptation 
we imagined that those who tasted the fish when Lord An- 
son first came hither, were made sick merely by eatwig toe 
much ; whereas, if that had been the case, there would have 
been no reason for totally abstaining, but only eating tern 
perately. We, however, bought our knowledge by expe 
rience, which we luiglit have had cheaper ; for, though all 
our people who tasted this fish ate sparmgly, they were all, 
soon afterward, dangerously ill."* I have given this passage 
entire, chiefly because it serves to show both that an inac- 
curac)' apparently trifling may, by misleading the reader, be 
productive of very bad consequences, and that those remarks 
which tend to add precision and perspicuity to our language 
are not of so little moment as some, who have not duly con- 
sidered the subject, would affect to represent them. 

To this class we may reduce the idwtism, or i\\e employing 
of an English word in a sense which it bears in some provin- 
cial dialect, in low and partial use, or which, perhaps, the cor- 
responding word bears in some foreign tongue, but unsup- 
ported by general use in our own language. An example of 
this we have in the word impracticable, \\\\en it is used for t/n- 
passable, and applied to roads ; an application which suits the 
French idiom, but not the English. Of the same kind are the 
following Gallicisms of Bolingbroke : " All this was done at 
the time, on the occasion, and by the persons I intend;''] 
properly, mean. " When we learn the names of complex 
ideas and notions, we should accustom the mind to decom- 
pound them, that we may verify them, and so make them our 
own, as well as to learn to compound others. "J Decompound 
he hath used here for anahjze, misled by the meaning of the 
French word decomposer, which is not only diflTerent from the 
sense of the English word, but contrary to it. To decompound 
is to compound of materials alread}' compounded. 

The use made of the verb arrive in the subsequent passage 
v. also exceptionable in the same way: "I am a man, and 
•jxnnot help feeling any sorrow that can arrive at man."^ In 
English it should be '-happen to man." 

To hold, signifying to use, and applied to language ; to ffive 
into, signifying to adopt, in the figurative sense of that word, 
Hre other expressions frequently employed by this author, 
and of late by several others, which fall under the same cen- 
sure. Even our celebrated translator of the Iliad hath not 
been clear of this charge. Witness the title he hath given te 

♦ Byron's Voyage, chap. xi. + Of the State of Partien 

t Phil., Es. i , sect iv. ^ Spectator, No. 502. T 


tt small dissertation prefixed to that work. "A mow," he 
calls it, " of the epic poem,'" in which short title there are two 
Improprieties. First, the word poem, which always denotes 
with us a particular performance, is here used, agreeably to 
the French idiom, for poetri/ in general, or the art which char- 
acterizes the performance ; secondly, the definite article tht 
is employed, which, though it be always given to abstracts ii? 
French, is never so applied in English, unless with a view to 
appropriate them to some subject. And this, by-the-way 
renders the article with us more determinative than it is in 
French, or perhaps in any other tongue.* Accordingly, on 
the first hearing of the title above mentioned, there is no 
English reader who would not suppose that it were a critical 
tract on some particular epic poem, and not on that species 
of poesy. 

Another error of the same kind is the Latimsm. Of this, 
indeed, the examples are not so frequent. Foppery is a sort 
of folly much more contagious than pedantry ; but as they 
result alike from affectation, they deserve alike to be proscri- 
bed. An instance of the latter is the word affection, when 
applied to things inanimate, and signifying the state of being 
aflected by any cause. Another instance is the word integ- 
rity, when used for entireness. But here I think a distinction 
ought to be made between the familiar style and that of phil- 
osophical disquisition. In the latter it will be reasonable to 
allow a greater latitude, especially in cases wherein there 
may be a penury of proper terms, and wherein, without such 
indulgence, there would be a necessity of recurring too often 
to periphrasis. But the less, even here, this liberty is used, 
it is the belter. 

To these properly succeeds that sort of tlie vulgarism.] in 
which only a low and partial use can be pleaded in support 
of the application that is made of a particular word. Of this 
you have an example in the following quotation : " 'Tis my 
humble request you will be particular in speaking to the fol- 
lowing points."! The preposition ought to have been on. 
Precisely of the same stamp is the onV for of it, so much used 
by one class of writers. The pronoun it is, by a like idiom, 
made sometimes to follow neuter verbs, as in the following 
passage : " He is an assertor of liberty and property ; he rat- 
tles it out against popery and arbitrary power, and priest- 
craft, and high church."^ 

* Accordingly, Bossu hath styled his performance on tl e same subject, 
Traiie du Pohne Epique. It is ihis title, I suppose, which Aath misled the 
English poet. 

t I say that sort of the vulgarism, because, when the word is in no ac- 
ceptation in good use, it is a sort that partakes of the barbarism ; but "vheii 
a particular application of a good word is current only .imong the lowej 
classes, it belongs to the impropriety. i Guardian, No. rt'" 

^ .Swift's Project for the Advancement of P.eligior. 


Th.e tiusiliaries should, should Kave, and should be, are somfw 
times used in the same improper manner. I am not sensible 
of the elegance which Dr. Priestley seems to have discover- 
ed in the expression, " The general report is that he should 
have said''' for " tiiat he said." It appears to me not only as 
an idiomatical expression, but as chargeable both with pleo- 
nasm and with ambiguity ; for what a man said is often very 
different from what he should have said. 

I shall finish all that I propose to offer on the idiotism when 
I have observed that thes*^ remarks are not to be extended 
to the precincts of satire and burlesque. There, indeed, a 
vulgar, or even what is called a cant expression, will some- 
times be more emphatical than any proper term whatsoever. 
The satirist may plead his privilege. For this reason, the 
following lines are not to be considered as falling under this 
criticism : 

•' Whether the charmer sinner it or saint it, 
If folly grows romantic, 1 must paint it."* 

It remains to give some instances wherein sound and sense 
both concur in misleading us. Of this the word enough is an 
example, which is frequently confounded with enow, and used 
for it. Both denote sufficiency, the former in quantity or ir. 
degrees of quality, the latter in number. Thus we say prop- 
erly, " We have courage enough and ammunition enough, hut 
we have not men enow.'''' 

The derivatives falseness, falsily, falsehood, from the root 
false, are often, by mistake, employed for one another, though 
m the best use they are evidently distinguished. The first 
falseness, is properly used in a moral sense for want of vera- 
city, and applied only to persons ; the otiicr two are applied 
only to things. Falsity denotes that quality in tlie abstract 
which may be defined contrariety to truth. Falsehood is an 
untrue assertion. The word negligence is improperly used 
in the following passage : " The negligence of this leaves us 
exposed to an uncommon levity in our usual conversation."! 
He ought to have said neglect. The former implies the habit, 
the latter denotes the act — perhaps in this case I should sry 
the instance : for an act of a habit of not doing hath itsel" 
the appearance of impropriety. 

Precisely of the same kind is the misapplication of the 
word conscience in this quotation : " The conscience of appro- 
ving one's self a benefactor to mankind, is the noblest rec- 
ompense for being so."| Properly, the consciousness ; the 
former denotes the faculty, the latter a particular exertion. 

This impropriety is reversed in the citation following : " I 
apprehend that all the sophism which has been or can be em- 
ployed, will not be sufficient to acquit this system at the tri- 

- Pope. 1 Spect . No. 76. t Spect, No. S83 


bunal of reason."* For sophism he should have said sophistry , 
this denotes fallacious reasoning, that only a fallacious argu- 
ment. This error is of the same kind with poem for poetry 
which was remarked above. 

Sometimes the neuter verb is mistaken for the active. 
"What Tully says of war may be applied to disputing; it 
should be always so managed as to remember that the only 
end of it is peace. "f Properly, remind us. 

Sometimes, again, the active verb is mistaken for the neu- 
ter. " I may say, without vanity, that there is not a gentle- 
man in England better read in tombstones than myself, my 
studies having laid very much in churchyards. "| Properly, 
lien or lain. The active verb lay, for the neuter lie, is so fre- 
quently to be met with in some very modern compositions, 
as to give room for suspecting that it is an idiom of the cock- 
ney language, or of some provincial dialect. In that case it 
might have been classed under the idiotism. 

Perhaps under the same predicament ought also to be 
ranked the word plenty, used adjectively for plentiful, which 
indeed appears to me so gross a vulgarism, that I should not 
have thought it worthy a place here if 1 had not sometimes 
found it in works of considerable merit. The relative whom, 
in the following quotation, is improperly used for which, the 
former always regarding persons, the latter always things : 
" The e.xercise of reason appears as little in them as in the 
beasts they sometimes hunt, and by whom they are sometimes 
hunted. "ij 

I shall add but two instances more of impropriety in single 
words, instances which 1 have reserved for this place, as be 
ing somewhat peculiar, and, therefore, not strictly reducible 
to any of the classes above mentioned; instances, too, from 
authors of such eminence in respect of style, as may fully 
convince us, if we are not already convinced, that infallibili- 
ty is not more attainable here than in other articles. " As 1 
firmly believe the divine precept delivered by the Author of 
Christianity, there is not a sparrow falls to the ground without 
my Father, and cannot admit the agency of chance in the 
government of the world, I must necessarily refer every 
event to one cause, as well the danger as the escape, as well 
ihe sufferings as the enjoyments of life."!! There is very 
little affinity, either in sense or in sound, between precept and 
doctrine; and nothing but an oscitancy, from which no writer 
whatever is uniformly exempted, can account for so odd a 
misapplication of a familiar term. The words in connexion 
might have shown the error. It is the doctrines of our reli- 

• Bol. Ph. Fr., 20. + Pope's Tlioug:hts on various Subjects, 

t Spect., No. 518. () Bolinb. Ph., Es. ii., sect. ii. 

II General Introduction to the Account of the Voyages of Coiun'.odore 
Byron, &c., by Hawkesworth. 



gion that we are required to believe, and the precepts that wc 
are required to obey. The other example is, " Their success 
may be compared to that of a certain prince, who placed, it 
is said, cats and other animals, adored by the Egyptians, in 
the front of his army when he invaded that people. A rev- 
erence for these phantoms made the Egyptians lay down their 
arms, and become an easy conquest."* What the author 
here intended to say it is hard to conjecture ; but it is un- 
questionable that in no sense whatever can cats and other 
animals be called phantoms. 

I shall now, before I proceed to consider impropriety as it 
a[)pears in phrases, make a few reflections on those princi- 
ples which most frequently betray authors into such misap- 
plications in the use of single words. As to that which hath 
been denominated the vulgarism, its genuine source seems to 
be the aflectation of an easy, familiar, and careless manner. 
The writers who abound in this idiom generally imagine that 
their style must appear the more natural the less pains they 
bestow upon it. Addison hath exactly hit their notion of 
°A\sy writing. "It is," says he, "what any man may easily 
ivrite." But these people, it would seem, need to be in- 
formed that ease is one thing, and carelessness is another ; 
nay, that these two are so widely different, that the former 
is most conmionly the result of the greaJest care. It is like 
ease in motion, which, though originally the effect of disci- 
pline, when once it hath become habitual, has a n)ore simple 
and more natural appearance than is to be observed in any 
manner which untutored Nature can produce. This senti- 
ment is well expressed by the poet : 

■' But ease in writing flows from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learned to dance." t 

True ease in composition, accompanied with purity, d 
as much from that homely manner which aflfects the famili- 
arity of low phrases and vulgar idioms, as the appearance of 
a woman that is pWinly but neatly dressed differs from that 
of a slattern. But this afl"ectation is to be considered as the 
spring of one species of impropriety only. 

All the rest, unless when chargeable on inadvertency, as 
they sometimes doubtless are, seem naturally to flow from 
one or other of these two sources, which are almost diamet- 
rically opposite to the former. One is, the love of novelty ; 
the other, a fondness for variety. The former, wlfcn exces- 
sive, tends directly to misguide us, by making us disdain the 
beaten track, for no other reason but because it is the beaten 
track. 'I'he idea of vulgarity in the imaginations of those who 
are affected by this principle is connected with everything that 

Bolinb. Ph., Es. iv., sect i. + Pope's Imitatioiib 


3 conceived as customary. The genuine issue ot this ex- 
treme, much worse, I acknowledge, than the former, is not 
only improprieties, but even absurdities, and fustian, and 
bombast. The latter, to wit, a fondness for variety, produ- 
celh often the same eflect, though more indirectly, it begets 
an immoderate dread of becoming tedious, by repealing too 
frequently the same sound. In order to avoid this, a writer 
resolves at any rate to diversify his style, let it cost what it 
will ; and, indeed, this fancied excellence usually costs more 
than it is worth. Very often propriety and perspicuity both 
are sacrificed to it. 

It is justly observed by Abbe Girard,* that when a per- 
formance grows dull through an excess of uniformity, it is 
not so much because the ear is tired by the frequent repeti- 
tion of the same sound, as because the mind is fatigued by 
the frequent recurrence of the same idea. If, therefore, there 
be a remarkable paucity of ideas, a diversity of words will 
not answer the purpose, or give to the work the agreeable 
appearance of variety. On the contrary, when an author is 
at great pains to vary his expressions, and for this purpose 
even deserts the common road, he will, to an intelligent read- 
er, but the more expose his poverty the more he is solicitous 
to conceal it. And, indeed, what can more effectually betray 
a penury of words than to be always recurring to such as 
custom hath appropriated to purposes different from those 
for which we use them] Would the glitter of jewels which 
we know to be stolen produce an opinion of the wearer's 
afHuence ? And must not such alienations of words, if I may 
be allowed the metaphor, awaken a suspicion of some origi- 
nal defects which have given occasion to them'? We should 
hardly say tliat a house were richly furnished, I am sure we 
could not say that it were well furnished, where we found 
a superfluity of utensils for answering some purposes, and a 
total want of those adapted to other purposes not less neces- 
sary and important. We should think, on the contrary, that 
there were much greater appearance both of opulence and 
taste, where, though there were little or nothing superfluous, 
no vessel or piece of furniture useful in a family were want- 
ing. When one is obliged to make some utensil supply pur- 
poses to which they were not originally destined — when, for 
instance, " the copper pot boils milk, heats porridge, holds 
small beer, and, in case of necessity, serves for a jorden"! — 
there are always, it must be confessed, the strongest indica- 
tions of indigence. On the contrary, when every real use 
hath some instrument or utensil adapted tn it, there is the 
appearance, if not of profusion, of what is much more valua- 
Vie, plenty. 

* Syn mymes Francjois, Preface. t Swift. 


In c. .anguage there may be great redundancies, anJ, at th* 
same lime, great defects. It is infinitely less important to 
have a number of synonymous words, which are even some 
times cumbersome, than to have very few that can be called 
homonymous, and, consequently, to have all the differences 
which there are in things, as much as possible, marked by 
corresponding differences in their signs. That this should 
be perfectly attained, I own is impossible. The varieties in 
ihiiigs are infinite, whereas the richest language hath its 
limits. Indeed, the more a people improve in taste and 
knowledge, they come the more, though by imperceptible 
degrees, to make distinctions in the application of words 
which were used promiscuously before. And it is by thus 
marking the delicate differences of things, which in a nider 
slate they overlooked, more than by any other means, tliat 
their language is refined and polished. Hence it acquires 
precision, perspicuity, vivacity, energy. It would be no dif- 
ficult task to evince, as partly it may be collected from wlial 
hath been observed already, that our own language hath from 
this source received greater improvements in the course of 
the last century and of the present, than from the accession 
of new words, or perhaps from any other cause. Nothing 
then, surely, can serve more to corrupt it than to overturn 
the barriers use hath erected, by confounding words as sy- 
nonymous to which distinct significations have been assign- 
ed. This conduct is as bad policy with regard to style as it 
would be with regard to land, to convert a great part of the 
property into a common. On the contrary, as it conduceth 
to the advancement of agriculture and to the increase of the 
annual produce of a country to divide the commons and turn 
them into property, a similar conduct in the appropriation of 
words renders a language more useful and expressive. 

Part II. Impropriety in Phrases. 

I come now to consider the improprieties which occur in 
phrases. The first of tliis kind of which I shall take notice 
is when the expression, on being grammatically analyzed, is 
discovered to contain some inconsistency. Such is the 
phrase of all others after the superlative, common with many 
English writers. Interpreted by the rules of syntax, it im- 
plies that a thing is different from itself. Take these words 
for an example : " It celebrates the Church of England as the 
most perfect of all others.^'* Properly, either " as more per- 
fect than any other," or " as the most perfect of all church- 
es." This is precisely the same sort of impropriety iiiK 
which Milton hath fallen in these words : 

' Swift's Apology for the Tale of a Tuo. 


" Adam, 
The comeliest man of men, since born 
His sons. The fairest of her daughters Eve."* 

And in these : 

" The loveliest pair 
That ever since in love's embraces met."t 

Use, indeed, may be pleaded for such expressions, which, it 
must be acknowledged, use hath rendered intelligible. Bui 
still the general laws of the language, which constitute the 
most extensive and important use, may be pleaded against 
them. Now it is one principal method of purifying a language 
to lay aside such idioms as are inconsistent with its radical 
principles and constituent rule, or as, when interpreted by 
such principles and rules, exhibit manifest nonsense. Nor 
does the least inconvenience result from this conduct, as we 
can be at no loss to find expressions of our meaning alto- 
gether as natural and entirely unexceptionable. 

Sometimes, indeed, through mere inattention, slips of this 
kind are committed, as in the following instance : " I do not 
reckon that we want a genius more than the rest of onr neigh- 
bours. "J The impropriety here is corrected by omitting the 
words in italics. 

A nother oversight, of much the same kind, and by the same 
author, we have in tiie following passage : '• I had like to 
have gotten one or two broken heads for my impertinence."!^ 
This unavoidably suggests the question. How many heads 
was he possessed of] Properly, •' I was once or twice like 
to have gotten my head broken." 

Another from the same work, being a passage formerly 
quoted for another purpose, is this : " The first project was 
to shorten discourse by cutting polysyllables into one."l| One 
thing may be cut into two or more ; but it is inconceivable 
that, by cutting, two or more things should be made one. 

Another, still from the same hand: "I solemnly declare 
that I have not wilfully committed the least mis lake. "^ The 
words used here are incompatible. A wrong wilfully com- 
mitted is no mistake. 

Addison hath fallen into an inaccuracy of the same kind 
in the following lines : 

" So the pure limpid stream, when foul with stains 
Of rushing torrents and descending rams."* « 

A stream may doubtless be at one time limpid and at anothei 
foul, which is all tha*. the author meant ; but we cannot prop- 
erly call it a pure limpid stream when it is foul wuh stains. 

• Paradise Lost. t lb., b. iv 

t Swift's Proposal for ascertaining the English Tongue. 

i) Voyage to Brobdignag. II Voyage to Laput» 


T uyage lu Drouuigiiag. II Tuyagc 

Remniks on the Barrier Treaty. ** Cato, 


So iiiucli for those improprieties which involve in them some 

I sh;ill next illustrate those by which an author is made to 
fiay one tiling when he means another. Of this kind I shall 
produce only one example at present, as I shall have occa- 
sion afterward of considering the same fault under the arti- 
cle of perspicuity. " 1 will instance in one opinion, which I 
look upon every man obliged in conscience to quit, or ir 
prudence to conceal ; I mean, that whoever argues in do 
fence of absolute power in a single person, though he offers 
the old plausible plea that it is his opinion, wliich he cannot 
help unless he be convinced, ought, in all free states, to be 
treated as the common enemy of mankind.''* From the 
scope of the discourse, it is evident he means, that whoever 
hath it for his opinion that a single person is entitled to ab- 
solute authority, ought to quit or conceal that opinion; be- 
cause otherwise he will, in a free state, deserve to be treat- 
ed as a common enemy ; whereas, if he says anything, he 
says that whoever thinks that the advocates for absolute 
power onglit to be treated as common enemies, is obliged to 
quit or conceal that opinion ; a sentiment very dift'erenl from 
the former. 

The only species of impropriety that remains to be exem 
plified is that wherein there appears some sliglit incongruity 
in the combination of the words, as in the quotations follow- 
ing : " When you fall into a man's conversntion, the first thing 
you shoulo consider is — ."f Proi)f.rly, " fall inlo conversation 
with a man." " 1 wish, sir, you wouid animadvert frequently 
on the false taste the town is in with relation to plays as well 
as operas. "J Properl}^ " the false taste of the town." 

" The presence of the Deity, and the care such an august 
Cause is to be supposed to ta/,e about any action."^ The impro- 
priety here is best corrected by substituting the word Being 
in tlie place of cause; for though there be nothing improper 
in calling the Deity an august Cause, the author hath very 
improperly connected with this appellative some word total- 
ly unsuitable ; for who ever heard of a cause taking care about 
an action ? 

I shall produce but one other instance. " Neither implies 
that there are virtuous habits and accomplishments already 
attained by the possessor, but they certainly show an unpreju- 
diced capacity towards them."! In the first clause of this 
sentence there is a gross inconsistency : we are informed of 
iiabits and accomplishments that are possessed, but not attain- 
ed ; in the second clause there is a double impropriety: the 
participial adjective is not suited to the substantive with 

♦ Senliiuents of a Church of England Man. + Spectator, No. 49 

r lb, No. "22. "J Pope s View of the Eoic Poem || Guardian No. 31 


ivliich it is )nstrued, nor is the subsequent preposition ex- 
pressive of the sense. Supposing, then, that the word 7305- 
sessor hath been used inadvertently for person, or some other 
general term, the sense maybe exhibited thus : " Neither im- 
plies that there are virtuous habits and accomplishments al- 
ready attained by this person, but they certainly show that 
his mind is not prejudiced against them, and that it hath a 
capacity of attaining them." 

Under this head I might consider that impropriety which 
results from the use of metaphors or other tropes, wherein 
the similitude to the subject, or connexion with it, is too re- 
mote ; also, that which results from the construction of 
words with any trope, which are not applicable in the literal 
sense. The former errs chiefly against vivacity, the latter 
against elegance. Of the one, therefore, I shall have occa- 
sion to speak when I consider the catachresis, of the other 
when I treat oi mixed metaphor. 

I have nov/ finished what was intended on the subject of 
grammatical purity ; the first, and, in some respect, the most 
essential of all the virtues of elocution. I have illustrated 
the three difl'erent ways in which it may be violated ; the 
barbarism, when the words employed are not English ; the 
solecism, when the construction is not English; the impro 
oriety, when the meaning in which any English word or 
phrase is used by a writer or speaker is not the sense which 
^ood use hath assigned to it. 



BEFORE I dismiss this article altogether, it will not be amiss 
o consider a little some dubious points in construction, on 
vhich our critics appear not to be agreed. 

One of the most eminent of them makes this remark upon 
•Jie neuter verbs : " A neuter verb cannot become a passive. 
In a neuter verb the agent and the object are the same, and 
cannot be separated even in imagination; as in the examples 
lo sleep, to walk ; but when the verb is passive, one thing is 
acted upon by another, really or by supposition different from 
it."* To this is subjoined in the margin the following note : 
" That some neuter verbs take a passive form, but without a 
passive signification, has been observed above. Here we 
speak of their becoming both in form and signification pas- 
* Short Introduction, &c. Sentences. 


sive, and shall endeavour farther to illustrate the rule by ex 
ample. To split, like many other English verbs, hath hot? 
an active and a neuter signification : according to the formei 
we say, The force of gunpowder split the rock ; according to 
the latter, the ship split upon the rock ; and converting the 
verb active into a passive, we may say. The rock was split 
by the force of gunpowder, or the ship was split upon the 
rock. But we cannot say with any propriety, turning the. 
verb neuter into a passive, The rock was split upon by th€ 

This author's reasoning, so far as concerns verbs properly 
neuter, is so manifestly just, that it commands a full assent 
from every one that understands it. I differ from him only 
in regard to the application. In my apprehension, what may 
grammatically be named the neuter verbs are not near so 
numerous in our tongue as he imagines. 1 do not enter into 
tlie difference between verbs absolutely neuter and intransi- 
tively active. I concur with him in thinking that this dis- 
tinction holds more of metaphysics than of grammar. But 
by verbs grammatically neuter I mean such as are not fol- 
lowed either by an accusative, or by a preposition and a 
noun ; for 1 take this to be the only grannnatical criterion 
with us. Of this kind is the simple and primitive verb to 
laugh; accordingly, to say he loas laughed would be repug- 
nant alike to grammar and to sense. But give this verb a 
regimen, and say To laugh at, and you alter its nature by 
adding to its signification. It were an abuse of words to call 
this a neuter, being as truly a compound active verb in Eng- 
lish as deridere is in Latin, to which it exactly corresponds 
in meaning. Nor doth it make any odds that the preposition 
in the one language precedes the verb, and is conjoined with 
it, and in tiie other follows it, and is detached from it. The 
real union is the same in both. Accordingly, he loas laughed 
at is as evidently good Knglish as derisus fuit is good Latin. 

Let us Ijear this author himself, who, speaking of verbs 
compounded with a preposition, says expressly, " In English 
the preposition is more frequently placed after the verb, and 
separate from it, like an adverb ; in which situation it is no 
less apt to affect tlie sense of it, and to give it a new mean- 
ing; and may still be considered as belonging to the verb, 
and a part of it. As, to cntt is to throw ; but to ca'J. vp, or to 
compute an account, is quite a different thing: thus, to fall on, 
to bear out, to give over,''' &c. Innumerable examples might 
be produced to show that such verbs have been always used 
as active or transitive compounds, call them which you 
please, and therefore as properly susceptible of the passive 
voice. I shall produce only one authority, which, I am per- 
suaded, the intelligent reader will admit to be a good one. 
It is nc other than this ingenious critic himself and the p;..s- 


Bilge of his wliich I have in view will be found in the very 
quotation above made. " When the verb is passive, one thing 
IS acted upon by another." Here the verb to act upon is un- 
doubtedly neuter, if the verb to split upon be neuter in the ex- 
pression censured ; and conversely, the verb to split upon is 
undoubtedly active, if the verb to act upon be active in the 
passage quoted. Nor can anything be more similar than the 
construction : " One thing is acted upon by another." Tlie 
rock is split upon by the ship. 

After all, I am sensible that the latter expression is liable 
lo an exception which cannot be made against the former. 
I therefore agree with the author in condemning it, but not 
in the reason of pronouncing this sentence. The only rea- 
son that weighs with me in this : The active sense of the 
simple verb to split, and the sense of the compound to split 
upon, are, in such ti phrase as that above mentioned, apt to be 
confounded. Nay, what is more, the false sense is that 
which is first suggested to tfie mind, as if the rock, and not 
the ship, iiad been split ; and though the subsequent words 
remove the ambiguity, yet the very hesitancy which it occa- 
sions renders the expression justly chargeable, though not 
with solecism, with what is perhaps v/orse, obscurity and in- 

That we may be satisfied that this and no other is the gen- 
uine cause of censure, let us borrow an example from some 
verb, which in the simple form is properly univocal. To 
smile is such a verb, being a neuter, which, in its primitive 
and uncompounded state, never receives an active significa- 
tion ; but to smile on is with us, according to the definition 
given above, a compound active verb, just as arridere* (to 
which it corresponds alike in etymology and meaning) is in 
Latin. Accordingly, we cannot say he was smiled in any 
sense. But to say he teas smiled on, as in the following ex- 
ample, " He was smiled on by fortune in every stage of life," 
is entirely unexceptionable. Yet the only difference between 
this and the phrase above criticised ariseth hence, that there 
is something ambiguous in the first appearance of the one 
which is not to be found in the other; and, indeed, when the 
simple and primitive verb has both an active signification and 
a neuter (as is the case with the verb split), such an ambigu- 
y\:s appearance of the compound in the passive is an invari- 
able consequence. 

I shall observe farther, in order to prevent mistakes on 
Ihis subject, that there are also in our language compound 

* I know that the verb arideo is accounted neuter by Latin .exicogra 
phe.s. The reason lies not in the signification of the word, but purely in the 
circumstance that, it governs the dative, and not the accusative. But witb 
this distinction we have no concern. That it is active in its import is evi 
Jenl from this, that it is used by good authors in the passive. 


n»!iUei as well as compound active verbs. Such are to go up^ 
:j come doivn, to fall out. These properly have no passive 
voice; and though some of them admit a passive form, it is 
without a passive signification. Thus, he is gone up, and he 
has gone up, are nearly of the same import. Now the only 
distinction in English between the active compound and the 
neuter compound is this : the preposition in the former, or, 
more properly, the compound verb itself, hath a regimen ; in 
the latter it hath none. Indeed, these last may be farther 
compounded by the addition of a preposition with a noun, in 
which case they also become active or transitive verbs, as i i 
these instances, " He went up to her" — " She fell out with 
them." Consequently, in giving a passive voice to these, 
there is no solecism. We may say. " She tvas gone up to by 
him" — " They were fallen out ivith by her." But it must be 
owned that the passive form, in this kind of decomposite 
verbs, ought always to be avoided as inelegant, if not ob- 
scure. By bringing three prepositions thus together, one in- 
(^'itabiy creates a certain confusion of thought; and it is not 
till after some painful attention that the reader discovers two 
of the prepositions to belong to the preceding verb, and the 
third to the succeeding noun. The principal scope of the 
foregoing observations on the passage quoted from l)r. Lowth 
is, to point out the only characteristical distinction between 
verbs neuter and verbs active which obtains in our Language. 

To these I shall subjoin a few things which may serve for 
ascertaining a)iother distinction in regard to verbs. When a 
verb is used impersonally, it ought undoubtedly to be in the 
singular number, whether the neuter pronoun be expressed 
or understood ; and when no nominative in the sentence can 
regularly be construed wiih the verb, it ought to be consider- 
ed as impersonal. For this reason, analogy as well as usage 
favour this mode of expression: "The conditions of the 
agreement wore as follows,'''' and not as follow. A few late 
writers have inconsiderately adopted this last form through 
a mistake of the construction. For the same reason, we 
ought to say, " I shall consider his censures so far only as 
concerns my friend's conduct," and not " so far as c^^ncern.''^ 
It is manifest tiiat the word conditions in the first ca^e, and 
censures in the second, cannot serve as nominatives. If we 
give either sentence another turn, and instead of as say such 
as, the verb is no longer impersonal. The pronoun suc/i is 
the nominative, whose number is determined by its antece- 
dent. Thus we must say, " They were such as follow" 
" such of his censures only as concern my friend." In thi.s 
I entirely concur with a late anonymous remarker on the 

I shall only add on this subje ;t that the use of impersonal 
t'. rbs was much more frequenf with us formerly than it is 


HOW. Thus, il pleascth me, it grieveth me, it vepenteth me, were 
a sorl of iriipersonals, for whirh we should now say I phase, 
I grieve, I repent. Methink.". and mcthought at present, as me- 
seemeth and meseemed anciently, are, as Johnson justly sup- 
poses, remains of the same practice.* It would not be easy 
lo conjecture what hath misled some writers so far as to 
niake mem adopt the uncouth term methoughts, in contempt 
alike of usage and of analogy, and even without any colour- 
able pretext that 1 can think of, for thoughts is no part of the 
verb at all. 

I shall now consider another suspected idiom in English, 
which is the indefinite use sometimes made of the pronoun 
(7, when applied in the several ways following : first, to per- 
sons as well as to things ; second, to the first person and the 
second, as well as to the third ; and, thirdly, to a plural as 
well as to a singular. Concerning the second application 
and the third, Dr. Johnson says in his Dictionary, " This 
mode of speech, though used by good authors, and supported 
by the il y a of the French, has yet an appearance of barba- 
rism." Dr. Lowth doubts only of the third application. 
" The phrase," says he, " which occurs in tlie following ex- 
amples, though pretty common, and authorized by custom, 
yet seems to be somewhat defective in the same way." He 
had been specif)ang inaccuracies arising from disagreement 
in number. The examples alluded to are, 

" 'Tls these that early taint the female soul."t 
"'Tis they thai give the great Atrides' spoils ; 

'Tis they that Still renew Ulysses' toils.":} 
" Who was't came by ? 

^Tis two or three, my lord, thai bring you word, 

Macduff is fled to England."!^ 

Against the first application, to persons as well as to things, 
neither of these critics seems to have any objection ; and it 
must be owned, that they express themselves rather skepti- 
cally than dogmatically about the other two. Yet, in my 
judgment, if one be censurable, they all are censurable ; and 
\{ one be proper, they all are proper. The distinction of gen- 
ders, especially with us, is as essential as the distinction of 
persons or that of numbers. I say especially with us, because, 
though the circumstances be few wherein the gender can be 
marked, yet in those few our language, perhaps more than 
any other tongue, follows the dictates of pure Nature. The 
masculine pronoun he it applies always to males, or, at least, 
to persons (God and angels, for example) who, in respect of 
dignity, are conceived as males; the feminine she to females ; 
and, unless where the style is figurative, the neuter it to 

* The smiilar use of impersonal verbs, and lbs il »/ie semJZe of the French, 
emler this hy I'othe.iis si ill more Drobable. 

* Tone. t I rior ^ Shakspeare 


things either not susceptible of sex, or in which the sex iS 
unknown. Besides, if we have recourse to the Latin syntax, 
the genuine source of most of our grammatical scruples, wc 
shall find there an equal repugnancy to all the applications 
above rehearsed.* 

But, to clear up this matter as much as possible, I shall 
recur to some remarks of the last-mrntioned critic concern- 
ing ihe significations and the uses o/ the neuter it. "The 
pronoun ?7," he tells us, " is sometimes employed to express, 
first, the subject of any inquiry or discourse ; secondly, tho 
state or condition of anything or person ; thirdly, the thing, 
whatever it be, that is the cause of any effect or event, oi 
any person considered merely as a cause, without regard to 
proper personality.'' In illustration of the third use, he quotea 
these words : 

" You heard her say herself it iras not / — 
'Twas I that kill'd her."t 

The observations of this author concerning the neuter pro 
noun are, as far as they go, unexceptionable. He ought to 
liave added to the word personality, in the third use, the words 
gender or number. The example which he liath given shows 
that there is no more regard to gender than to personality ; 
and that there ought to be no more regard to number than to 
e'ither of the former, may be evinced from the considerations 

When a personal pronoun must be used indefinitely, as in 
asking a question whereof the subject is unknown, there is a 
necessity of using one person for all the persons, one gender 
for all the genders, and one number for both numbers. Now 
in English, custom hath consigned to this indefinite use the 
third person, the neuter gender, and the singular number. 
Accordingly, in asking a question, nobody censures this use 
of the pronoun, as in the interrogation Who is ill yet by the 
answer it may be found to be / or he, one or many. But. 
whatever be the answer, if the question be proper, it is prop- 
er to begin the answer by expressing the subject of inquiry 
in the same indefinite manner wherein it was expressed in 
the question. The words it is are consequently pertinent 
here, whatever be the words which ought to follow, whether 
/ or he, we or they.X Nay, this way of beginning the answer 
by the same indefinite expression of the subject that was 
used in the question, is the only method authorized in the 
language for connecting these two together, and showing 
that what is asserted is an answer to the question csked ; 
and if there be nothing faulty in the expression when ii is 
an answer to a question actually proposed, there can be no 

* In Latin, id fuit. ille would be as gross a solecism as id fuit ego, or ii 
fait vos. t Shakspeare. 

J In this observation I find I have the concnrrence of Dr. Priesiiey. 


fault in it where no question is proposeil ; for ever\' answ ei 
^hat is not a bare assent or denial ought, indeperniently of the 
question, to contain a proposition grammaticall} enunciated, 
Hud every affirmation or negation ought to be so enuncir.ted 
as that it might be an answer to a question. Thus, by a very 
sunple sorites, it can be proved that if the pronoun it may 
be used indefinitely in one case, it may in every case. Nor 
is it possible to conceive even the shadow of a reason why 
one number may not as well serve indefinitely for both num- 
bers, as one person for all the persons, and one gender for all 
ihe genders. 

That which hath made more writers scrupulous about the 
first of these applications than about the other two is, I ima- 
gine, the appearance, not of the pronoun, but of the substan 
tive verb in the singular adjoined to some term in the plural. 
In order to avoid this supposed incongruity, the transhitors 
of the Bible have in one place stuiubled on a very uncoutli 
expression : " Search the Scriptures, for ?m them ye think ye 
have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me."* 
In the other applications they have not hesitated to use the 
indefinite pronoun it, as in this expression : " It is /, be not 
afraid. "t Yet the phrase they are they m th*?- first quotation, 
adopted to prevent the incongruous adjunction of tlie verb in 
the singular, and the subsequent noun or pronoun in the plu- 
ral, is, 1 suspect, no better English than the phrase / am 1 
would have been in the second, by which they might have 
prevented the adjunction, not less incongruous, of the third 
person of the verb to the first personal pronoun. If there be 
any difference in respect of congruity, the former is the less 
incongruous of the two. The latter never occurs but in such 
passages as tiiose above quoted, whereas nothing is com- 
moner than to use the substantive verb as a copula to two 
nouns dilfering in number, in which case it generally agrees 
with the first. " His jneat was locusts and wild honey,"| is a 
sentence which I believe nobody ever suspected to be ungram- 
matical. Now, as every noun may be represented by a pro- 
noun, what is grammatical in those must, by parity of rea- 
son, be grammatical in these also. Had the question been 
put, " What was his meat V the answer had undoubtedly been 
proper, '* It was locusts and wild honey ;"' and this is anoth- 
s.r argument which in my apprehension is decisive. 

]?'jt "this comes," as Dr. Lowth expresseth himself in a 
SMiiilar case, *' of forcing tlie English under tlie rules of a for- 
eign language with which it has little concern."'^ A conve- 

• J)hn, v.. 39. t MaU., xiv., 27. t Matt., iii., 4. 

) The English hath little or no affinity in structure either to the Latin oi 
to the Greek. It mnch more resembles the modern European languages 
especially the French. Accordmgly, we find in it an idiom very similar tl 
'.b»t which hath been considered above. I do not mean the tl y a-b» 



nient mode of speech which custom hath established, and foi 
wliich there is pretty frequent occasion, ought not to be has- 
tily given up, especially when the language doth not furnish 
us with another equally simple and easy lo supply its place, 
[ should not have entered so minutely into the defence o a 
practice sufficiently authorized by use but in order, if possi- 
ble, to satisfy those critics who, though both iHgenious ana 
acute, are jipt to be rather more scrupulous on the article of 
Janguage than the nature of the subject will admit. In eveiy 
tongue there are real anomalies which have obtained the 
sanction of custom ; for this, at most, hath been reckoned 
only dubious. There are particularly some in our own which 
have never, as far as I know, been excepted against by any 
writer, and which, nevertheless, it is much more difficult to 
reconcile to the syntactic order than that which I have been 
now defending. An example <jf this is the use of the indefi- 
nite article, which is naturally singular, before adjectives ex- 
pressive of number, and joined with substantives in the plu- 
ral. Such are tlie phrases {allowing, a few persons, a great 
many men, a hundred or a tliousand ships. 

There is another point on which, as both the practice of 
writers and the judgment of critics seemed to be divided, it 
may not be improper to make a few remarks. It is the way 
of using the infinitive after a verb in the preterit. Some will 
have it that the verb governed ought to be in the past as wU 
as the verb governing; and others that the infinitive ought tO 
be in what is called the present, but what is, in fact, indefinite 
in regard to time. I do not think that on either side the dif- 
ferent cases have been distinguished with sufficient accuracy. 
A very little attention will, 1 hope, enable us to unravel the 
•lilhculty entirely. 

Let us begin with the simplest case, the infinitive after the 
present of the indicative. When the infinitive is expressive 
of what is conceived to be either future in regard to the verb 
in the present, or contemporary, the infinitive ought to be in 
the present. Thus, " I intend to write to my father lo-mor- 
low" — " He seems to be a man of letters." In the first ex- 
ample, the verb to write expresses what is future in respect 
of the verb intend. In the second, the verb lo be expresses 
ivhat is equally present with the verb seems. About the pro- 

cause the a is part of an active verb, and the words that follow in the sen- 
tence are its regimen ; consequently, t»o agreement in person and number 
is required. But the idiom to which I allude is the il est, as used in the 
Ifitlowing sentence, " // est des animahg qui semblent reduits au toucher : i\ 
m est qui semblent participer a noire intelligence." — Contemplation de la Na- 
hire, far Bounet. I am too zealous an advocate for English independency 
.0 look on this argument as conclusive, but I think it more than a sufficient 
tounterpoise to all that can be pleaded on the other side from the syntax o( 
•bf learned lang lages 


priety of such expressions there is no doubt. Again, if the 
infinite after the verb in the present be intended to express 
what must have been antecedent to that which is expressed 
by the governing verb, the infinitive must be in the preterper- 
fect, even though the other verb be in the present. Thus, 
" From his conversation he appears to have studied Homer 
with great care and judgment." To use the present in this 
case, and say " He appears to study Homer," would overturn 
the sense. 

The same rule must be followed when the governing verb 
is in the preterit ; for let it be observed, that it is the tense of 
the governing verb only that marks the absolute time ; the 
tense of the verb governed marks solely its relative time 
with respect to the other. Thus 1 should say, " I always in- 
tended to icrite to iny father, though I have not yet done it" — 
" He seemed to be a man of letters" — " From a conversation 
I once had with him, he appeared to have studied Homer with 
great care and judgment." Propriety plainly requires that 
in the first two instances the infinitive should be in the pres- 
ent tense, and in the third instance in the preterit. 

Priestley has not expressed himself on this subject with 
precision. I found him belter than I expected to find him, is 
the only proper analogical expression. Expected to have found 
him is irreconcilable alike to grammar and to sense. Indeed, 
all verbs expressive of hope, desire, intention, or command, 
must invariably be followed by the present, and not the per- 
fect of the infinitive. Everybody would perceive an error in 
this expression : " It is long since I commanded him to have 
done it." Yet expected to have found is no better. It is as 
clear that the finding must be posterior to the expectation, aa 
that the obedience must be posterior to the command. But 
though the anonymous remarker formerly quoted is in the 
right as to the particular expressions criticised by him, he 
decides too generally, and seems to have imagined that in 
no case ought the preterperfect of the infinitive to follow the 
preterit of the indicative. If this was his opinion, he was 
egregiously mistaken. It is, however, agreed on both sides, 
that in order to express the past with the defective verb ought, 
we must use the perfect of the infinitive, and say, for exam- 
ple, " He ought to have done it ;" this, in that verb, being the 
only possible way of distinguishing the past from the present. 

There is only one other observation of Dr. Lowth on 
which, before I conclude this article, I must beg lesve to 
oflfer some remarks. " Phrases like the following, '.hougli 
very common, are improper : Much depends upon the 7-ule's 
being observed; and error will be the consequence of its being 
neglected. For here is a noun and a pronoun representing it, 
each in the possi ssive case, that is, under government of an- 
other noun, but ivithout other noun to govern it ; for being 


observed and leing neglected are not nouns, nor can you sup. 
ply the place of the possessive case by the preposition q/" be- 
fore the noun or pronoun."* For my part, notwithstanding 
what is here very speciously urged, I am not satisfied that 
there is any fault in the phrases censured. They appear trt 
me to be perfectly in the idiom of our tongue, and such as 
on some occasions could not easily be avoided, unless by 
recurring to circumlocution, an expedient which invariably 
tends to enervate the expression. But let us examine the 
matter more nearly. 

This author admits that the active participle may be em- 
ployed as a noun, and has given some excellent directions 
regarding the manner in which it ought to be construed, that 
the proper distinction may be preserved between the noun 
and the gerund. Phrases like these, therefore, he would 
have admitted as unexceptionable : '' Much depends upon 
their observing of the rule, and error will be the consequence 
of their neglecting of it." Now, though I allow both the 
modes of expression to be good, I think the first simpler and 
better than the second. Let us consider whether the formei 
be liable to any objections which do not equally affect the 

One principal objection to the first is, " You cannot supply 
the place of the possessive case by the preposition q/" before 
the noun or pronoun." Right; but before you draw any con 
elusion from this circumstance, try whether it will not equallj 
affect both expressions ; for, if it does, uoth are on this ac 
count to be rejected, or neither. In the first, the sentence 
will be made to run thus : " Much depends upon the being ob- 
served of the rule, and error will be the consequence of the 
being neglected of it." Very bad, without question. In the 
second, thus : " Much depends upon the observing of them ol 
the rule, and error will be the consequence of the neglecting 
of them of it." Still worse. But it may be thoujfht that as, 
in the last example, the participial noun gets a double regi- 
men, this occasions all the impropriety and confusion. 1 
shall therefore make the experiment on a more simple sen 
tence. " Much will depend on your pupiVs composing, but 
more on his reading frequently." Would it be English to say, 
*' Much will depend on the composing of your pupil, but more 
on the reading of him frequently?" No, certainly. If this 
argument, then, prove anything, it proves too much, and, 
consequently, can be no criterion. 

The only other objection mentioned is, that " being observed 
and being neglected are not nouns." It is acknowledged that, 
in the common acceptation of the vord, they are not nouns 
but passive participles ; neither is the active participle com 

* Introduction, &c., Sentonces, Note on the Cth Plira p 


moiily a noun ; neither is the infinitive of the verb active or 
passive a noun ; yet the genius of the tongue permits that aJ! 
these may bo construed as nouns in certain occurrences. 
The infinitive, in particular, is employed substantively when 
it is made either the nominative or the regimen of a verb. 
No>y in this way not the infinitive only, but along with it all 
the words in construction, are understood as one compound 
noun, as in the examples following : " To love God and our 
neighbour is a duty incumbent on us all," and " The Gospel 
strongly inculcates on us this important lesson, to love God 
and our neighbour.'''' But in no other situation can such clauses 
supply the place of nouns. They are never used in construc- 
tion with other nouns followed by a preposition. The quo- 
tation brought from Spenser is, I suspect, a mere Grecism, 
which was not in his time, more than it is at present, con- 
formable to the English idiom. For is the only preposition 
that seems ever to have been construed with such clauses, 
after another verb ; and even this usage is now totally laid 

I am of opinion, therefore, upon the whole, that as the 
idiom in question is analogical, supported by good use, and 
sometimes very expedient, it ought not to be entirely ren- 



Purity, of which I have treated at some length in the two 
preceding chapters, may justly be denominated grammatical 
truth. It consisteth in the conformity of the expression to 
the sentiment which the speaker or the writer intends to con- 
vey by it, as moral truth consisteth in the conformity of the 
sentiment intended to be conveyed to the sentiment actually 
entertained by the speaker or the writer ; and logical truth, 
as was hinted above, in the conformity of the sentiment to 
the nature of things. The opposite to logical truth is prop 
erly error ; to moral truth, a lie ; to grammatical truth, a 
blunder. Now the only standard by which the conformity 
implied in grammatical truth must be ascertained in every lan- 
guage is, as hath been evinced,* reputable, national, and pres- 
ent use in that language. 

But it is with the expression as with the sentiment, it is 
not enough to the orator that both be true. A sentence may 
be a jist exhibition, according to the rules of the language, 
of the thought intended to be conveyed by it, and may there- 

* B. ii., chap. i. 


fore, to a mere grammarian, be unexceptionablf, which lo an 
orator may appear extremely faulty. It may, nevertheless, 
be obscure; it may be languid; it may be inelegant; it may 
be flat; it may be unmusical. It is not ultimately the just- 
ness either of the thought or of the expression which is the 
aim of the orator, but it is a certain effect to be produced in 
the hearers. This effect as he purposeth to produce in them 
by means of language, which he makes the instrument of 
conveying his sentiments into their minds, he must take care, 
ill the first place, that his style be perspicuous, that so he may 
be sure of being understood. If he would not only inform the 
understanding, but please the imagination, he must add the 
charms of vivacity and elegance, corresponding to the tw(i 
sources from which, as was observed in the beginning of this 
work,* the merit of an address of this kind results. By vi- 
vacity, resemblance is attained ; by elegance, dignity of man 
ner ; for as to the dignity of the subject itself, or thing imi- 
tated, it concerns solely the thought. If he purposes to work 
upon the passions, his very diction, as well as his sentiments, 
must be animated. Thus, language and thought, like body 
and soul, are made to correspond, and the qualities of the onf 
exactly to co-operate with those of the other. 

But though the perfection of the body consists, as was for- 
merly observed,! in its fitness for serving the purposes of 
the soul, it is, at the same time, capable of one peculiar ex 
cellence as a visible object. The excellence I mean is beau- 
ty, which evidently implies more than what results from the 
fitness of the several organs and members for answering their 
respective ends. That there is a beauty in the perceived fit- 
ness of means to their end, and instruments to their use, is 
'incontrovertible. All that I contend for here is, that this is 
lot the whole of what is iuiplied in the term beauty. The 
eyes of one person may be much inferior in this respect to 
those of another, though equally fit for all the purposes of vis- 
ion. The like may be said of every other feature. Analo- 
gous to this, there is an excellence of which language is sus- 
ceptible as an audible object, distinct from its aptitude for con- 
veying the sentiments of the orator with light and energy into 
the minds of the hearers. Now as music is to the ear what 
beauty is to the eye, I shall, for want of a more proper term, 
denominate this excellence in style its music, though I ac- 
knowledge the word is rarely used with so great latitude. 

Thus it appears that, besides purity, which is a quality en- 
".irely grammatical, the five simple and original qualitie."* o( 
style, considered as an object to the understanding, the ima- 
gination, the passions, and the ear, are perspicuity, 'nvaciii, 
elegance, animation, and music. 

• Rook i., chap. i. t Book i . ••fap. n 




Of all the qualities above mentioned, the first and most es 
sential is perspicuity.* Every speaker doth not propose to 
please the imagination, nor is every subject susceptible of 
those ornaments which conduce to this purpose. Much less' 
is it the aim of every speech to agitate the passions. There 
are some occasions, therefore, on which vivacity, and many 
on which animation of style, are not necessary ; nay, there 
are occasions on which the last especially would be improp- 
er. But whatever be the ultimate intention of the orator, to 
inform, to convince, to please, to move, or to persuade, still 
he must speak so as to be understood, or he speaks to no 
purpose. If he do not propose to convey certain sentiments 
into the minds of his hearers by the aid of signs intelligible 
to them, he may as well declaim before them in an unknown 
tongue. This prerogative the intellect has above all the other 
faculties, that whether it be or be not immediately addressed 
by the speaker, it must be regarded by hiiu either ultimately 
or subordinately ; ultimately when the direct purpose of the 
discourse is information or conviction ; subordinately when 
the end is pleasure, emotion, or persuasion. 

There is another difference also between perspicuity and 
the two last-mentioned qualities, vivacity and animation, 
which deserves to be remarked. In a discourse wherein ei- 
ther or both of these are requisite, it is not every sentence 
that requires, or even admits them ; but every sentence ought 
to be perspicuous. The effect of all the other qualities of 
style is lost without this. This being to the understanding 
what light is to the eye, ought to be diffused over the v^^hole 
performance. In this respect it resembles grammatical pu- 
rity, of which I have already treated, but it is not in this re- 
spect only that it resembles it. Both are best illustrated by 
showing the different ways wherein they may be lost. It is 
for these reasons that, though perspicuity be more properly 
a rhetorical than a grammatical quality, I thought it better to 
include it in this book, which treats of the foundations and 
essential or universal properties of elocution, than to class it 
with those which are purely discriminative of particular styles 

Indeed, if language were capable of absolute perfection, 
which il evidently is not ; if words and things could be ren 
dered c.tact counterparts to each other; if every differeni 
thing in nature had a different symbol by which it were py 

• " Prima est cloquentiae virtus perspicuitas.'' — Quint. 


pressed ; and every difference in the relations of things had 
a corresponding difference in the combinations of words, pu- 
rity alone would secure perspicuity, or, rarher, these two 
would entirely coincide. To speak grammatically would, in 
that case, convey infallibly and perspicuously the full mean- 
ing of the speaker, if he had any meaning, into the mind of 
every hearer who perfectly understands the language. There 
would not be even a possibility of mistake or doubt. But the 
aase is widely different with all the languages that ever were, 
are, or will be in the world. 

Grammatical purity, in every tongue, conduceth greatly to 
perspicuity, but it will by no means secure it. A man may 
in respect of it speak unexceptionably, and yet speak ob- 
scurely or ambiguously ; and though we cannot say that a 
man may speak properly, and at the same time speak unin- 
telligibly, yet this last case falls more naturally to be consid- 
ered as an offence against perspicuity than as a violation o' 
propriety ; for when the meaning is not discovered, the par- 
ticular impropriety cannot be pomted out. In the three dif- 
ferent ways, therefore, just now mentioned, perspicuity may 
be violated. 



Part I. From Defect. 

This is the first offence against perspicuity, and may arise 
from several causes. First, from some defect in the expres- 
sion. There are in all languages certain elliptical expres- 
sions, which use hath established, and which, therefore, very 
rarely occasion darkness. When they do occasion it, they 
ought always to be avoided. Such are, in Greek and Latin, 
the frequent suppression of the substantive verb and of the 
possessive pronouns ; I was going to add, and of the person- 
al pronouns also ; but, on reflection, I am sensible that, in 
the omission of them in the nominative, there is properly no 
ellipsis, as Ihe verb, by its inflection, actually expresses them. 
Accordingly, in these languages, the pronoun in the nomina- 
tive is never rightly introduced unless when it is emphatical. 
But the idiom of most modern tongues, English and French 
particularly, will seldom admit such ellipsis.* In Italian and 
Spanish they are pretty frequent. 

* The French, I imagine, have gone to the other extreme. They re- 
qiBre :n many instances a repetition of pronouns, prepositions, and articles, 
whk:h, as they add nothing to the perspicuity, must render the expression 
languid. There are some cases in which this repetition is consequential 
on the very construction of their language. For example, we say properly 
in English mi^ father and mother, because the possessive pronoun, having no 
distinction of gender, and so having but one form, is alike applicable to botb • 


Often, indeed, the affectation of conciseness, often the ra- 
bidity of thought natural to some writers, will give rise to 
dtill more material defects in the expression. Of the se I shall 
produce a few examples : " He is inspired," says an eminent 
writer, " with a true sense of ihaL function, when chosen from 
"i regard to the interests of piety and virtue."'* Sense in this 
passage denotes an inward feeling, or the impression which 
some sentiment makes upon the mind. Now a function can- 
not be a sentiment impressed or felt. The expression is 
therefore defective, and ought to have been, •' He is inspired 
with a true sense of the dignity or of the importance of that 
function.'" "You ought to contemn all the wit in the world 
against you."t As the writer doih not intend to :jignify that 
all the wit in the world is actually exerted against the per- 
son whom he addresses, there is a defect in the expression, 
though perhaps it will be thought chargeable with redundancy 
at the same time. More plainly thus: "You ought to con- 
temn all the wit that can be employed against you." " He talks 
all the way up stairs to a visit. "J There is here also a faulty 
omission, which, if it cannot be said to obscure the sense, 
doth at least withhold that light whereof it is susceptible. If 
the word visit ever meant person or people, there would be 
an ambiguity in the sentence, and we should imagine this the 
object talked to ; but as that cannot be the case, the expres- 
sion is rather to be accounted lame, there being no verb in it 
with which the words ro a visit can be construed. More ex- 
plicitly thus : " He talks all the way as he walks up stairs to 
make a visit." " Arbitrary power," says an elegant writer, 
" I look upon as a greater evil than anarchy itself, as much 
as a savage is a happier state of life than a slave at the oar."§ 
Neither savage nor slave can be denominated a state of life, 
though the states in which they live may properly be com- 

the case being different witli them, renders it necessary to follow a differ- 
ent rule, and to say monpereet 7na mere. But it is not to instances of this 
iiort that the rule is limited. Custom witii tliem hath extended it to innu- 
merable cases wherein there is no necessity froin construction. With ua 
it is enough to say, " She vvas robbed of her clothes nnd jewels." With Ihesn 
the preposition and the pronoun must boUi be repeated deses hainis et de set 
foiaiix. Again, with them it is not sufficient to say. " The woman whom 
you know and love," but whom yon know and wlwm you love — que vous connois- 
sez et que vous aimez. in like manner, the relatives in French must never be 
omitted. They often are in English, and vi-hen the omission occasions no 
obscurity, it is not accounted improper. An expression like this would in 
their tongue be intolerable : " You are obliged to say and do all yuu can." It 
must be " to say and to do all that which you can" — de dire et de faire tout ce 
que vous savez. But though in several instances the critics of that nation 
have refined on their language to e.xcess, and by needless repetition* havt 
sometimes enervated the expression, their criticisms, when useful in assist 
ing us to shun any obscurity or ambiguity, deserve to be adopted. 

* Gjardian, No. 13. f Guardian, No. 53. 

t Spect No. 2. (^ Sentiments of a Church of England Man 


242 rnE philosophy of rhetoric. 

pared. " This courage among the adversaries of the i;onrt,' 
says the same writer in another piece, "was inspired into 
ihem by various incidents, for every one of which I think ihe 
ministers, or, if that was the case, the ministei, is to 
answer.'"* Ifthalivas the ca^e— Pray, what is he supposnig 
to have been the case ? To the relative that I can find no 
antecedent, and am left to guess that he menns if there was 
hut one minister. " When a man considers not only an ample 
fortune, but even the very necessaries of life, his pretence tu 
food itself at the mercy of others, he cannot but look upon 
himself in the state of the dead, with his case thus much 
worse, that the last office is performed by his adversaries in- 
stead of his friends."! There is a double ellipsis in this sen- 
tence. You must first supply as being before the words at 
the mercy, and insert as before in the stale of the dead. " I beg 
of you," says Steele, " never let the glory of our nation, who 
made France tremble, and yet has the gentleness to be un- 
able to bear opposition from the meanest of his own country- 
men, be calumniated in so impudent a manner as in the in 
sinuation that he affected a perpetual dictatorship."! At first 
reading, one is at a loss to find an antecedent to the pronouns 
who, his, and he. On reflection, one discovers that the phrase 
/he glory of our nation is figurative, and denotes a certain ilius 
trious personage. The trope is rather too adventurous, with- 
out some softening clause, to suit the idiom of our tongue. 
The sense would have appeared immediately had he said, 
" Never let the man, who may justly be styled the glory ol 
our nation — " 

The instances now given will suffice to specify the obscu- 
rities in style which arise from deficiency. The same evil 
may also be occasioned by excess. But as this almost inva- 
riably offends against vivacity, and only sometimes produceth 
darkness, there will be a more proper occasion of considering 
it afterward. Another cause of obscurity is a bad choice ol 
words. When it is this alone which renders the sentence ob- 
scure, there is always ground for the charge of improprietv. 
which hath been discussed already. 

Part II. From Bad Arrangement. 

Another source of obscurity is a bad arrangement of the 
words. In this case the construction is not sufficientlj" clear 
One often, on first hearing the sentence, imagines, from the 
turn of it, that it ought to be construed one way, and, on re- 
flection, finds that he must construe w. another way. Of this, 
which is a blemish too common even in the style of our bes» 
writers, 1 shall produce a few examples: "It contained.' 

» Free Thoughts on the Present State of Affairs. 

» Spectator No 456, T. t Ouardia >, No. 53 


says Swift, " a warrant for (onducting me and iny retinue to 
Traldragdubb, or Trildrogdrib, for it is pronounced both ways, 
as near as I can remember, hy a ■party of ten horsey* The 
words by a 'party of ten horse must be construed with the par- 
ticiple conducting, but they are placed so far from this word, 
and so near the verb pronounced, that at first they suggest a 
meaning perfectly ludicrous. " I had several men died in my 
ship 0/ calentures."! The preposition 0/ must be construed 
with the verb died, and not, as the first appearance would 
suggest, with the noun ship immediately preceding. More 
clearly thus : " I had several men in my ship who died of 
calentures." I shall remark, by-the-way, that though the 
relatives ivho and ivhich may, agreeably to the English idiom, 
be sometimes omitted in the oblique cases, to omit them in 
the nominative, as in the passage last quoted, almost always 
gives a maimed appearance to the expression. "I perceiv- 
ed it had been scoured uuth half an eye. "J The situation of the 
last phrase, which is, besides, a very bad one, is liable to the 
same exception. " I have hopes that when Will confronts 
him, and all the ladies in ivhose behalf he engages him cast kind 
looks and wishes of success at their champion, he will have 
some shame. "^ It is impossible not to imagine, on hearing 
the first part of the sentence, that Will is to confront all the 
ladies, though afterward we find it necessary to construe 
this clause with the following verb. This confusion is re- 
moved at once by repeating the adverb ivhen, thus : " I have 
hopes that when Will confronts him, and when all the ladies 
cast kind looks — " The subsequent sentence is liable to the 
same exception : " He advanced against the fierce ancient, 
imitating his address, his pace, and career, as viell as the vig- 
our of his horse, and his own skill would aliow."i| The clause 
as well as the vigour of his horse appears at iirsi to belong to 
the former part of the sentence, and is afterv.'ard found to be- 
long to the latter. In all the above instances of bad arrange- 
ment, there is what may be justly termed a constructive am- 
biguity ; that is, the words are so disposed in point of order 
as would render them really ambiguous, if, in that construc- 
tion which the expression first suggests, any meaning were 
exhibited. As this is not the case, the faulty order of the 
words cannot properly be considered as rendering the sen- 
tence ambiguous, but obscure. 

It may indeed be argued, that in these and the like exam- 
ples, the least reflection in the reader will quickly remove 
the obscurity. But why is there any obscurity to be remo- 
ved ? Or why does the writer require more attention from the 
reade'" or the speaker from the hearer, than is absolutei]/ 

* Voyag^e to Laputn. \ Voyage to the Honvhnlinms. 

I Guardian, No. 10. ^ Spectator. No. 20. f Battle of'the Brooks 


necessary ? It ought to be remembered, that whatever ap- 
plication we must give to the words is, in fact, so much de- 
duced from what we owe to the sentiments. Besides, the 
effort that is exerted in a very close attention to the lan- 
guage always weakens the effect which the thoughts were 
intended to produce in the mind. " By perspicuity," as Quin 
tilian justly observes, " care is taken, not that the hearer /nay 
understand if he will, but that he must understand, whether 
he will or not."* Perspicuity originally and properly implies 
transparency, such as may be ascribed to air, glass, water, or 
any other medium through which material objects are viewed. 
From this original and proper sense it hath been metaphori- 
cally applied to language, this being, as it were, the medium 
through wliich we perceive the notions and sentiments of a 
speaker. Now, in corporeal things, if the medium through 
which we look at any object be perfectly transparent, oui 
whole attention is fixed on the object ; we are scarcely sen 
sible that there is a medium which intervenes, and can hard- 
ly be said to perceive it. But if there be any flaw in the me- 
dium, if we see through it but dimly, if the object be imper- 
fectly represented, or if we know it to be misrepresented, our 
attention is immediately taken oft' the object to the medium. 
We are then desirous to discover tlie cause, either of the dim 
and confused representation, or of the misrepresentation ol 
things which it exhibits, that so the defect in vision may be 
supplied by judgment. The case of language is precisely sim- 
ilar. A discourse, then, excels in perspicuity when the sub- 
ject engrosses the attention of the hearer, and the diction is 
so little minded by him that he can scarcely be said to be con- 
scious that it is through this medium he sees into the speaker's 
thoughts. On the contrary, the least obscurity, ambiguity, or 
confusion in the style, instantly removes the attention from 
the sentiment to the expression, and the hearer endeavours, 
by the aid of reflection, to correct the imperfections of the 
speaker's language. 

So much for obviating the objections which are frequently 
raised against such remarks as I have already made, and 
shall probably hereafter make on the subject of language. 
The elements which enter into the composition of the hugest 
bodies are subtile and inconsiderable. The rudiments of ev- 
ery art and science exhibit, at first, to a learner, the appear- 
ance of littleness and insignificancy; and it is by attending 
to such reflections as to a superficial observer would appear 
minute and hypercritical, that language must be improved 
and eloquence perfected.! 

* "Non ul intelligere possit, sed ne omnino possit non intelligere curati- 
dum." — Insiit., lib. viii., cap. ii. 

t The maxim Natura sr potissimum prodil in minimis is not confined tc 


I return to the causes of obscurit}^ and shall only farthei 
observe concerning tlie effect of bad arrangement, that it gen 
erally obscures the sense even when it doth not, as in the 
preceding instances, suggest a wrong construction. Of thia 
the following will suffice for an example : " The young man 
did not want natural talents ; but the father of him was a 
coxcomb, who affected being a fine gentleman so umnerciful- 
]y, that he could not endure in his sight, or the frequent men- 
tion of one who was his son, growing into manhood, and 
thrusting Mm out of the gay world."* It is not easy to dis- 
entangle the construction of this sentence. One is at a loss, 
at first, to find any accusative to the active verb endure; on 
farther examination, it is discovered to have two, the word 
meniion and the word one, which is here closely combined 
with the preposition of, and makes the regimen of the noun 
fnejition. I might observe, also, the vile application of the 
word unmercifully. This, together with the irregularity of 
the reference and the intricacy of the whole, renders the pas- 
sage under consideration one of those which may, with equc 1 
justice, be ranked under solecism, impropriety, obscurity, or in 

Part III. From using the same Word in different Senses. 

Another source of obscurity is when the same word is in 
the same sentence used in different senses. This error is 
exemplified in the following quotation : " That he should be 
in earnest it is hard to conceive ; since any reasons of doubt 
which he might have in this case would have been reasons 
of doubt in the case of other men, who may give more, but 
cannot give mo?-e evident, signs of thought than their fellow- 
creatures."! This errs alike against perspicuity and ele- 
gance ; the word more is first an adjective, the comparative 
of many ; in an instant it is an adverb, and the sign of the 
comparative degree. As the reader is not apprized of this, 
the sentence must appear to him, on the first glance, a flat 
contradiction. Perspicuously either thus, " Who may give 
more numerous, but cannot give more evident signs," or tlius, 
" Who may give more but cannot give clearer signs." 

It is but seldom that the same pronoun can be used twice 
or oftener in the same sentence, in reference to different 
things, without darkening the expression. It is necessary 
to observe here, that the signification of the personal, as well 
as of the relative pronouns, and even of the adverbs of place 
and time, must be determined by the things to which they 
relate. To use them, therefore, with reference to diftereni 
things, is in elfect to employ the same word in diff'erent sen. 
Res, which, when it occurs in the same sentence, f)r in sen 

♦ Spect.. No. 490. T t Bolingb. Ph., Es. !.. sect, ix 



tences closely connected, is rarely found entirely compat^bla 
with perspicuity. Of this I shall give some examples. " On« 
may have an air which proceeds from a just sufficiency and 
knowledge of the matter before him, which may naturally pro- 
duce some motions of his head and body, ivhkh might become 
the bench better than the bar."* The pronoun ichich is here 
thrice used in three several senses ; and it must require re 
flection to discover, that the first denotes an air, the second 
sufficiency and knowledge, and the third motions of the head and 
body. Such is the use of the pronouns those and ivho in the 
following sentence of the same writer: "The sharks, who 
prey upon the inadvertency of young heirs, are more pardon- 
able than those who trespass upon the good opinion of those 
who treat with them upon the foot of choice and respect."! 
The same fault here renders a very short sentence at once 
obscure, inelegant, and unmusical. The like use of the pro- 
noim they in the following sentence almost occasions an am- 
biguity : " The'/ were persons of such moderate intellects, 
even before they were impaired by their passions. "J The 
use made of the pronoun it, in the example subjoined, is lia- 
ble to tile same exception : " If it were spoken with never so 
great skill in the actor, the manner of uttering that sentence 
could have nothing in it which could strike any but people of 
the greatest humanity, nay, people elegant and skilful in ob- 
servations upon ?7."^ To the preceding examples I shall add 
one wherein the adverb when, by being used in the same 
manner, occasions some obscurity : " He is inspired with a 
true sense of that function, tvhen chosen from a regard to the 
interests of piety and virtue, and a scorn of whatever men 
call great in a transitory being, when it comes in competition 
with what is unchangeable and eternal. "|| 

Part IV. From an uncertain Reference in Pronouns and Rela- 
A cause of obscurity also arising from the use of pronouns 
and relatives is when it doth not appear at first to what they 
refer. Of this fault I shall give the three following instan- 
ces : "There are other examples," says Bolingbroke, " of the 
same kind, which cannot be brought without the utmost hor- 
ror, because in them it is supposed impiously, against prin- 
ciples as self-evident as any of those necessary truths, which 
are such of all knowledge, that the Supreme Being commands 
by one law what he forbids by another."^ It is not so clear 
as it ought to be what is the antecedent to such. Another 
from the same author: " The laws of Nature are truly what 
my lord Bacon styles his aphorisms, laws of laws. Civil 
laws are always imperfect, and often false deductions from 

* Guardian, No. 13. * Spcct., No. Stt II Gnardiao No. 13. 

* llud., No. 73. (> /bid.. No. 502. IT Bolingb Phil. Fr., 20 


them, or applications oi them ; nay, <Aey stand in many uisfan 
ces ifi direct opposition to them.''''* It is not quite obvious, 
un the first reading, that the pronoun them in this passage 
iloth always refer to the laws of Nature, and they to civil laws. 
" When a man considers the state of his own mind, abou'- 
which every member of the Christian world is supposed a) 
this time to be employed, he will find that the best defence 
against vice is preserving the worthiest part of his own spir- 
it pure from any great offence against i7."f It must be own- 
ed that the darkness of this sentence is not to be imputed 
solely to the pronoun. 

Part V. From too artificial a Structure of the Sentence. 
Another cause of obscurity is when the structure of the 
sentence is too much complicated or too artificial, or when 
the sense is too long suspended by parentheses. Some crit- 
ics have been so strongly persuaded of the bad effect of pa- 
rentheses on perspicuity as to think they ought to be discard- 
ed altogether. But this, I imagine, is also an extreme. If 
the parenthesis be short, and if it be introduced in a proper 
place, It will not in the least hurt the clearness, and may add 
both to the vivacity and to the energy of the sentence. Oth- 
ers, again, have carried their dislike to the parenthesis only so 
far as to lay aside the hooks by which it is commonly dis- 
tinguished, and to use commas in their place. But this is not 
avoiding the fault, if it be a fault ; it is only endeavouring to 
commit it so as to escape discovery, and may, therefore, be 
more justly denominated a corruption in writing than an im- 
provement. Punctuation, it will readily be acknowledged, is 
of considerable assistance to the reading and pronunciation. 
No part of a sentence requires to be distinguished by the 
manner of pronouncing it more than a parenthesis, and, con- 
sequently, no part of a sentence ought to be more distinctly 
mirked in the pointing. 

Part VI. From Technical Terms. 
Another source of darkness in composing is the injudicious 
iulroduction of technical words and phrases, as in the follow- 
ing passage : 

" Tack to the larboard, and stand off to sea, 
Veer starboard sea and land."t 

What an aosurd profusion, in an epic poen too, of terms 
which few besides seamen understand ! In strict propriety, 
technical words should not be considered as belonging to the 
language, because not in current use, nor understood by the 
generality even of readers. They are but the peculiar dia- 
lect of a particular class. When those of that class only are 

* Phil. Fr., 9. + Guardian, No. 19 I Drvden's ^Eneid. 


addressed, as in treatises on the principles of their art, it if 
admitted that the use of such terms may be not only conve- 
nient, but even necessary. It is allowable also in ridicule. 
if used sparingly, as in comedy and romance. 

Part VII. From Long Sentences. 

The last cause of obscurity I shall take notice of is very 
long sentences. This rarely fails to be conjoined with some 
of the other faults before mentioned. The two subsequent 
quotations from two eminent writers will serve sufficiently 
to exemplify more than one of them. 'J'he first is from Bol- 
ingbroke's Philosophy : " If we are so, contrary to all appear- 
ances (for they denote plainly one single system, all the 
parts of which are so intimately connected and dependant 
one on another, that the whole begins, proceeds, and ends to- 
gether), this union of a body and a soul must be magical in- 
deed, as Doctor Cudworth calls it ; so magical that the hy- 
pothesis serves to no purpose in philosophy, wliatever it may 
do in theology ; and is still less coiuprehensible than the hy- 
pothesis which assumes that, although our idea of thought bt 
not included in the idea of matter or body, as the idea of fig- 
ure is, for instance, in that of limited extension, yet the fac- 
ulty of thinking, in all the modes of thought, may have been 
superadded by Omnipotence to certain systems of matter, 
which it is not less than blasphemy to deny — though divines 
and philosophers who deny it in terms may be cited — and 
which, whether it be true or no, will never be proved false 
by a little metaphysical jargon about essences, and attributes, 
and modes."* The other quotation is from Swift's letter to 
tlie Lord-high Treasurer, containing a proposal for correct- 
ing, improving, and ascertaining the English tongue : " To 
this succeeded that licentiousness which entered with the 
Restoration, and from infecting our religion and morals, fell 
to corrupt our language (which last was not like to be much 
improved by those who at that time made up the court oi 
King Charles the Second ; either sucli who had followed hira 
in his banishment, or who had been altogether conversant in 
the dialect of those fanatic times, or young men who had 
been educated in the same company), so that the court 
(which used to be the standard of propriety and correctness 
of speech) was then (and, I think, hath ever since continued) 
the worst school in England for that accomplishment, and so 
will remain till better care be taken in the education of our 
young nobility, that they may set out into the world with 
some foundation of literature, in order to qualify them for 
patterns of politeness." There are, indeed, cases in which 
teven a long period will not create obscurity When lliia 

■♦ Essay i., section ii 


happens, it may almost always be remarked, that all the pirn- 
cipal members of the period are similar in their structure, 
and would constitute so manv distinct sentences if they were 
not united by their reference to some common clause in the 
beginning or the end. 



It was observed that perspicuity might be violated not 
only by obscurity, but also by double meaning. The fault 
in this case is, not that the sentence conveys darkly or im- 
perfectly the author's meaning, but that it conveys also some 
other meaning which is not the author's. His words are sus- 
ceptible of more than one interpretation. When this hap- 
pens, it is always occasioned either by using some expression 
which is equivocal — ihat is, hath more meanings than one af- 
fixed to it, or by ranging the words in such an order that the 
construction is rendered equivocal, or made, to exhibit differ- 
ent senses. To the former, for distinction's sake, I shall as 
sign the name of equivocation; to the latter I shall appro- 
priate that of ambiguity. 

Part I. Equivocation. 

I begin with the first. When the word equivocation de- 
notes, as in common language it generally denotes, the use 
of an equivocal word or phrase, or other ambiguity, with an 
intention to deceive, it doth not differ essentially from a lie. 
This offence falls under the reproof of the moralist, not the 
censure of the rhetorician. Again, when the word denotes, 
as agreeably to etymology it may denote, that exercise of 
wit which consisteth in the playful use of any term or phrase 
in different senses, and is denominated pun, it is amenable, 
indeed, to the tribunal of criticism, but cannot be regarded 
as a violation of the laws of perspicuity. It is neither with 
the liar nor with the punster that I am concerned at present. 
The only species of equivocation that comes under reprehen- 
sion here is that which takes place when an author undesign- 
edly employs an expression susceptible of a sense different 
from the sense he intends to convey by it. 

In order to avoid this fault, no writer or speaker can think 
of disusing all the homonymous terms of the language, or all 
such as have more than one signification. To attempt this 
in any tongue, ancient or modern, would be to attempt the 
annihilation of the greater part of the language ; for in every 
language, the words strictly uni vocal will be found to be the 
smaller number. But it must be admitted, as a rule in elo- 
cution, that equivocal terms ought ever to be avoided, unlesa 
where their connexion with the other wor^Js Qf the sontenc* 


instantly ascertains the meaning. This, indeed, the connex- 
ion is often so capable of aflecting, that the hearer will never 
reflect that the word is equivocal, the true sense being the 
only sense which the expression suggests to his mind. Thus 
the word pomid signifies both the sum of twenty shillini^s ster- 
ling and the weight of sixteen ounces avoirdupois. Now if you 
tell me that you rent a house at fifty pounds, or that you have 
bought fift}' pounds of meat in the market, the idea of weight 
will never present itself to my mind in the one case, or the 
idea of money in the other. But it frequently happens, through 
the inadvertency of writers, that the connected words in the 
sentence do not immediately ascertain the sense of the equiv- 
ocal ter.Ti ; and though an intelligent reader may easily find 
the sense on reflection and with the aid of the context, we 
may lay it down as a maxim, that an author always off"ends 
against perspicuity wlien his style requires that reflection 
from his reader. But I shall proceed to illustrate by exam- 
ples the fault of which I am treating. An equivocation, then, 
may be either in a single word or in a phrase. 

As to the former, there is scarcely any of the parts of 
speech in which you will not find equivocal terms. To be- 
gin with particles: the preposition f;/denotes sometimes the 
relation which any affection bears to its subject ; that is, the 
person whose affection it is; sometimes tiie relation which 
it bears to its object. Hence this expression of the apostle 
hath been observed to be equivocal : " I am persuaded that 
neither death nor life — .shall be able to separate us from the 
love of God."* By the love of God, say interpreters, may be 
understood either God''s love to us, or our love to God. It is re- 
markable, that the geaitive case in the ancient languages, 
and the prepositions corresponding to that case in the mod- 
ern languages, are alike susceptible of this double meaning. 
Only as to our own language, we may observe in passing, 
tliat of late the preposition of is inore commonly put before 
the subject, and to before the object of the passion. But this 
is not the only way in which the preposition o/may be equiv- 
ocal. As it sometimes denotes the relation of the eflfect to 
the cause, sometimes that of the accident to the subject, from 
this duplicity of signification there will also, in certain cir 
cumstances, arise a double sense. You have an example in 
these words of Swift : " A little after the reformation o/Lu- 
ther."t It may, indeed, be doubted whether this should not 
rather be called an impropriet}% since the reformation of a 
•nan will suggest much more readily a change wrought on the 
man than a change wrought by him. And the former of these 
senses it could not more readily suggest, if the expression in 
that sense were not more conformable to use. 

Romans vii.. 38, &c. + Mechan. Operat 


My next instance shall be in the conjunctions : " They 
were both n<uch more ancient among the Persians tlian Zo- 
roaster or Zerdusht."* The or here is equivocal. It serves 
either as a copulative to synonymous words, or as a disjunc- 
tive of different things. If, therefore, the reader should not 
know that Zoroaster and Zerdusht mean the same person, he 
will mistake the sense. In coupling appellatives, there is 
not the same hazard, it being generally manifest to those 
who know the language whether the words coupled have the 
same signification. If, nevertheless, in any case it should be 
doubtful, an attention to the ensuing rules may have its util- 
ity. If the first noun follows an article or a preposition, or 
both, the article or the preposition, or both, should be re- 
peated before the second, when the two nouns are intended 
to denote different things, and should not be repeated whes 
they are intended to denote the same thing. If there be 
neither article nor preposition before the first, and if it be 
the intention of the writer to use the particle or disjunctively, 
let the first noun be preceded by either, which will infallibly 
ascertain the meaning. On the contrary, if, in such a du- 
bious case, it be his design to use the particle as a copulative 
to synonymous words, the piece will rarely sustain a mate- 
rial injury by his omitting both the conjunction and the sy- 

The following is an example in the pronouns : " She united 
the great body of the people in her and their common inter 
est."f The word her may be either the possessive pronoun 
or the accusative case of the personal pronoun. A very 
small alteration in the order totally removes the doubt. Say, 
'• in their and her common interest." The word her, thus 
connected, can be only the possessive, as the author doubt- 
less intended it should be, in the passage quoted. 

An exan)ple in substantives : " Your majesty has lost all 
hopes of any future excises by their consu?nption.''*X The 
word consumption has both an active sense and a passive. It 
means either the act of consuming, or the state of being con- 
sumed. Clearly thus : " Your majesty has lost all hopes of 
levying any future excises on what they shall consume." 

In adjectives : " As for such animals as are mortal or nox 
'.oMs, we have a right to destroy them."i^ Here the false 
sense is suggested more readily than the true. The word 
mortal, therefore, in this sentence, might justly be considered 
;is improper; for though it sometimes means destructive or 
causing death, it is then almost invariably joined with some 
noun expressive of hurt or danger. Thus we say a mortal 
jjoison, a mortal wound, a mortal disease, or a mortal enemy ; buf 

♦ Ba'. Subst. of Le.iers to M. de Pouilly. 

* Idea of a Patriot King. X Guardian, No. 52 
^ Guardian, No. 61. 


the phrases mortal creature, mortal animal, or mortal marit are 
always understood to imply creature, animal, or man, hablf. 
to death. 

In verbs : " The next refuge was to say, it was overlooked 
by one man, and many passages wholly written by another."* 
The word overlooked sometimes signifies revised and some- 
times neglected. As it seems to be in the former sense that 
this participle is used here, the word revised ouglit to have 
been preferred. Another instance in verbs : '' I have furnish- 
ed tlie house exactly according to your fancy, or, if ye)u 
please, my own ; for I have long since learned to like no- 
thing but what you </o."t The word do in this passage may be 
either the auxiliary, or, as it might be termed, the supplement 
ary verb, and be intended only to supersede the repetition of 
the verb like ; or it may be the simple active verb, which an- 
swers to the Latin /occ/c, and the French /aire. 

In the next quotation the homonymous term may be either 
an adjective or an adverb, and admi*« a different sense in each 
acceptation : 

'• Not nnly Jesuits can equivocate "X 
If the word only is here an adverb, the sense is, " To equivo- 
cate is not the only thing tliat Jesuits can do." 'I'his inter- 
pretation, though not the author's meaning, suits the con 
struction. A very small alteration in the order gives a prop- 
er and unequivocal, though a prosaic expression of this sense : 
''Jesuits can not only equivocate." Again, if the word only 
is here an adjective (and this, doubtless, is the authors in- 
tention), the sense is, "Jesuits are not the only persons who 
can equivocate." But this interpretation suits ill the compo- 
sition of the sentence. The only other instance of this error 
in single words I shall produce, is one in which, on the firs-t 
glance, there appears room to doubt whether a particulai 
term ought to be understood literally or metaphorically. The 
word handled in the following passage will illustrate what I 
mean : " Thus much I thought fit to premise before I resume 
the subject, which I have already handled — I mean, the naked 
bosoms of our British ladies. "i^ Sometimes, indeed, a thing 
like this may be said archly and of design, in which case it 
falls not under this animadversion. 

It was remarked above, that there are not only equivocal 
words in our language, but equivocal phrases. Not the least 
and not the smallest are of this kind. They are sometimes 
made to imply not any ; as though one should say, not even 
the least, not so much as the smallest ; and sometimes, again, t(? 
signii'y a very great, as though it were expressed in this man- 
ner, yary/w/j Iteing the least or smallest. Thus they are sus 

• Spect., No. 19. t Sppr \x6:xr. 

♦ Drj'den's Hind and Panther. 6 ~ "o 1 16 


ceptible of two significations that are not onl^ ■-Jir* jcnt, but 
contrary. We have an instance in the following p-assage: 
" Your character of universal guardian, joined to the concern 
you ought to have for the cause of virtue and religion, assure 
me you will not think that clergymen, when injured, h^ive the 
least right to your protection."* This sentence hath a'»MO the 
disadvantage taken notice of in some of the preceding <)uota- 
tions, that the sense not intended by the writer occurs n the 
reader much more readily than the author's real meaivng. 
Nothing less than is another phrase which, like the twi for- 
mer, is susceptible of opposite interpretations. Thus, ' He 
aimed at nothing' less than the crown," may denote (jrVier, 
" Nothing was less aimed at by him than the crown,' or 
" Nothing inferior to the crown could satisfy his ambiti. tr." 
All such phrases ought to be totally laid aside. The expres- 
sion ivill have merer/ is equivocal in the following passage o' 
the vulgar translation of the Bible: "I ivill have mem/, an(\ 
not sacrifice."! The expression commonly denotes "1 wi\i 
exercise mercy ;" whereas it is in this place employed to sig- 
nify " I require others to exercise it." The sentiment, there 
fore, ought to have been rendered here, as we find it exprees 
ed in the prophetical book alluded to, " I desire mercy, arc 
not sacrifice. "J When the phrase in question happens to bt 
followed by the preposition on or upon before the object, tliern 
is nothing equivocal in it, the sense being ascertained by th« 

So much for equivocal words and phrases. 

Part II. Ambiguity. 

I come now to consider that species of double meon np 
which ariseth, not from the use of equivocal terms, but sole- 
ly from the construction, and which I therefore distinguish 
l^y the name of ambiguity. This, of all the faults against pei 
spicuity, it is in all languages the most diflicult to avnj 1 
There is not one of the parts of speech which may not be » ) 
placed as that, agreeably to the rules of grammar, it may b»» 
construed with different parts of the sentence, and, by conse- 
quence, made to exhibit different senses. Besides, a writ* » 
intent upon his subject is less apt to advert to those impei 
fections in his style which occasion ambiguity than to ary 
other. As no term or phrase he employs doth of itself sug- 
gest the false meaning, a manner of construing his wordrt 
diflferent from that which is expressive of his sentiment wiL 
not so readily occur to his thoughts ; and yet this erroneou 
manner of construing them may be the most obvious to tN 
reader. I shall give examples of ambiguities in most of th' 
f a'.ts of speech, beginning with the pronouns. 

• Guardian, No so tMatt.ix., 13 J Ho» . vJ * 



As this signification of the pronouns (which by ihemselvea 
express only some relation) is ascertained mereh by the an- 
tecedent to which they refer, the greatest care must he taken, 
if we would express ourselves perspicuously, that the refer- 
ence be unquestionable. Yet the greatest care on tliis arti- 
cle will not always be effectual. There are no rules which 
either have been, or, I suspect, can be devised in any lan- 
guage, that will in all circumstances fix the relations of tbc 
pronouns in such a manner as to prevent ambiguity altogeth- 
er. I shall instance first the pronoun tv/io, begging that the 
reader will observe its application in the two following sen- 
tences : " Solomon, the son of David, ivho built the temple of 
Jerusalem, was the richest monarch that ever reigned over 
the people of God ;" and " Solomon, the son of David, who 
was persecuted by Saul, was tlie richest monarch — " In 
these two sentences, the tvhn is similarly situated ; yet in the 
former it relates to the person first mentioned, in the latter, to 
the second. But this relation to the one or to the other it 
would be impossible for any render to discover who had not 
some previous knowledge of the histor}'^ of those kings. In 
such cases, therefore, it is better to give another turn to the 
sentence. Instead of the first, one might say, " Solomon, 
the son of David, and the builder of the temple of Jerusalem, 
was the richest monarch." 'I'he conjunction and makes the 
following words relate entirely to Solomon, as nothing had 
been affirmed concerning David. It is more difficult to avoid 
the ambiguity in the other instance, without adopting some 
circumlocution that will flatten the expression. In the style 
that prevailed in this island about two centuries ago, they 
would have escaped the ambiguous construction in some 
such way as tiiis : " Solomon, the son of David, even of him 
whom Saul persecuted, was liie richest — " But this phrase- 
ology has to modern ears I know not what air of formalit} , 
that renders it intolerable. Better tiius : " Solomon, whose 
father David was persecuted by Saul, was the richest — " 
The following quotation exhibits a triple sense, arising from 
the same cause, the indeterminate use of the relative : 
" Such were the centaurs of Ixion's race, 
IVho a bright cloud for Juno did embrace."* 

Was it the centaurs, or Ixion, or Ins race, that embraced the 
cloud? I cannot help observing farther on this passage, that 
\hc relative ought grammatically, for a reason to be assigned 
afterward, rather to refer to cenlaurs than to either of the 
other two, and least of all to Ixion, to which it was intended 
to refer.f 

♦ Benhain's Progress of Learning. 

t Let it not be nnagined that in this particular our tongue has thedisad 
rantage of other languages. The same difficulty, as far as my acquaint- 
ance with them rc^aches, affects them all and even some modf rii tongues n 


But there is often an ambiguity in the relatives who, whic/i 
that, tvhose, and whom, even when there can be no doubt in 
regard to the antecedent. Tiiis arises from the different 
ways wherein the latter is affected by the former. To ex- 
press myself in the language of grammarians, these pronouns 
are sometimes explicative, sometimes determinative. They 
are explicative when they serve merely for the illustration 
of the subject, by pointing out either some property or some 
circumstance belonging to it, leaving it, however, to be un- 
derstood in its full extent. Of this kind are the following 
examples : " Man, who is born of woman, is of few days and 
full of trouble" — " Godliness, which with contentment is great 
gain, has the promise both of the present life and of the fu- 
ture." The clause " who is born of vvomnn." in the first ex- 
ample, and " which with contentment is great g;uii," in tha 
second, point to certain properties in the antecedents, but do 
not restrain their signification. For, should we omit these 
clauses altogether, we could say with equal truth, "Man is 
of few days and full of trouble" — " Godliness has tlie promise 
both of the present life and of the future." On the other 
hand, these pronouns are determinative when they are em- 
ployed to limit the import of the antecedent, as in these in- 
stances : " The man that endureth to the end shall be saved" — 
" The remorse which issues in reformation is true repentance." 
Each of the relatives here confines the signification of its an- 
tecedent to such only as are possessed of the qualification 
mentioned. For it is not affirmed of every man that he shall 
be saved, nor of all remorse that it is true repentance. 

From comparing the above examples, it may be fairly col- 
lected, that with us the definite article is of great use for dis- 
criminating the explicative sense from the determinative. In 
the first case it is rarely used, in the second it ought nevei 
to be omitted, unless when something still more definitive 
such as a demonstrative pronoun, supplies its place.* The 

a higher degree than ours. In EngHsh, one is never at a loss to discover 
whether the reference be to persons or to things. In Frencli and ItaUan the 
expression is often ambiguous in this respect also. In a French devotional 
booli 1 find this pious a.Unonition : " Conservez-vous dans ramour de Dieu, 
qui peut vous garantir de toule chute." I ask whether the antecedent here 
be I'amour or Dieu, since the relative (jui is of such extensive import as to be 
applicab'.-? to either. The expression would be equally ambiguous in Ital- 
ian : '• Co. iservatevi nell' amor di Dio, die vi puo conservare senza intoppo.' 
In English, according to the present use, there would be no ambiguity in 
the expression. If the author meant to ascribe this energy to the devout af- 
fection itself, he would say, " Keep yourselves in the love of God, vhich can 
preserve you from falling ;" if to God, the great object of our love, he would 
say, " w/io can preserve you." This convenient distinction was nat, how- 
ever, uniformly observed with us till about the middle of the last centuiy. 
* in this respect the articles are more subservient to perspicuity in ou 
tongue than in many others. In French, a writer must give the aiticle in 
discriininately in all the instances above specified. Thus, " L'homme, qu 


following passage is faulty in this respect : " I know that ali 
words which are signs of complex ideas, furnish matter of mis- 
take and cavil."* As words, the antecedent, has neither the 
article nor a demonstrative pronoun to connect it wiih the 
subsequent relative, it would seem that tlie clause " which 
^re signs of complex ideas" were merely explicative, and 
that the subject ivords were to be understood in tlie utmost 
iat'tude. This could not be the writer's sense, as it would 
be absurd to affirm of ail words that they are signs of com- 
plex ideas. He ought, therefore, to have said, either " I 
know that all the words tvhich are signs of complex ideas," 
or " I know that all those words which are signs — " Either 
-jf these ways makes the clause beginning witli the relative 
serve to limit the import of the antecedent. 

There are certain cases, it must be owned, wherein the 
antecedent would require I he article, even though the relative 
were intended solely for explication, as in these words of the 
Psalmist : " My goodness extcndeth not to thee, but to the 
saints and to the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. "f 
The last clause is probably not restrictive, the words samt 
and excellent ones necessarily requiring the article. Now, 
when such antecedents are followed by a determinative, they 
ought, for distinction's sake, to be attended with the demon- 
strative pronoun, as thus : " But to those saints, and to those 
excellent ones in ivho7n — " 

Through not attending to this circumstance, the translators 
of the Bible have rendered the follovvmg passage ambiguous, 
even in regard to the antecedent : " There stood by me this 

est ne de la feniine, vit lr6s [)eu de terns, ct il est rempli de iniseres ;" and 
" L'homme, qui pciseverera ju^qu'a la tin. sera sauve." In like manner, 
" La piele, qui juinte avec le contenlement est un grand gain, a les pro- 
inesscs de la vie presente, et de celle qui est a venir ;" and " Le remords qui 
aboutit a la reformation, est le vrai repentir." The like indistinctness will 
be found to obtain in kalian and some other modern languages, and arises, 
in a great measure, from their giving the article almost invariably to ab- 
stracts. . In some instances there appears of late a tendency m writers, es- 
pecially on politics, to give up this advantage entirely ; not by adding the ar- 
ticle to abstracts, but (whicii equally destroys the distinction) by omitting 
it when the term has a particular application. How often do we now find, 
even in books, nuch phrases as the following? "This was an undertaking 
too arduous for private persons unaided by government" — " It is hard to say 
wiiat measure administration will next adopt." As in both cases it is the 
present government and the present administration of the country of the 
author that is meant, these nouns ought to have the definite article prefixed 
to them, and can scarcely be called English without it. The former of 
tliese words is indeed frequently used in the abstract, in which case it nev 
er lias tne article, as thus : " Government is absolutely necessary in all civil 
ized societies" — '-He published tracts on various subjects, on 
eminent, trade," &c. Abuses, such as that here criticised, greatly hurtfu 
to perspicuity and precision, arise first in conversation, thence they creep 
into newsjiapers, thence into pamphlets, and at last unwarily lind admiseion 
into books. 

" Holinabroke's Dissertations on Parties. Let. xii. f f^vilra xvi.. ?,. 9 


<!ight the angel of God, whose I am, and w/iom 1 serve ''* 
The relatives here, whose and whom, refer more regularly to 
angel than to God. This, however, is not agreeable to tlie 
seiiso of the apostle. The words, therefore, ought to have 
been translated, "An angel of Ihe God," or "of that God, 
whose I am, and whom I serve ;"f for though the term God. iu 
strict propriety, can be applied only to one, and may there 
fare be thought to stand on the same footing with propei 
names, it is, in the common way of using it, an appellative, 
and follows the construction of appellatives. Thus we say. 
" the God of Abraham," " the God of armies." Besides, Paul, 
in the passage qi'oted, was speaking to heathens ; and this 
circumstance gives an additional propriety to the article. 

For an instance of ambiguity in the construction of the 
pronoun his, I shall borrow an example from a French gram 
marian ;J for though an equivocal word can rarely be trans- 
lated by an equivocal won), it is very easy, when two lan- 
guages have a considerable degree of similarity in their 
structure and analogy, to transfer an ambiguity from one to 
the other. The instance I mean is this : " Lysias promised 
to his father never to abandon his friends." Were they his 
own friends, or his father's, whom Lysias promised never to 
abandon ] This sentence, rendered literally, would be am 
biguous in most modern tongues. i^ In the earliest and sim- 
plest times, the dramatic manner in which people were ac 
customed to relate the plainest facts, served effectually to 
exclude all ambiguities of this sort from their writings. 
They would have said, " Lysias gave a promise to his father 
in these words, I will never abandon my friends," if they were 
his own friends of whom he spoke ; "• your friends,'''' if they 
were his father's. It is, I think, to be regretted, that the 
moderns have too much departed from this primitive simpli- 
city. It doth not want some advantages besides that of per- 
spicuity. It is often more picturesque, as well as more affect- 
ing ; though it must be owned, it requires so many words, 
and such frequent repetitions oi he said, he answered, and the 
like, that the dialogue, if long, is very apt to grow irksome. 
But it is at least pardonable to adopt this method occasional- 
ly, where it can serve to remove an ambiguity. As the turn 
which Buffier gives the sentence in French, in order to avoid 
the double meaning, answers equally well in English, I shall 
here literally translate it. On the first supposition, " Lysias, 
speaking of his friends, promised to his father never to aban- 
don them." On the second supposition, " Lysias, speaking ol 

' .\cts xxvii., 23. t AyytXoj mu Geoh, dv tmi Kal a Xarptvo). 

t Bulher. 

() It would not be ambiguous in Latin. The distinction which obtainB m 
that tongue between the pronouns sxius anil eju^, would totally preclude a!, 

Y 2 


his father's friends, promised to his father never to abandon 

Ii is easy to conceive that, in numberless instances, the 
pronoun he will in like manner be ambiguous when two or 
more males happen to be mentioned in the same clause of a 
sentence. ..i sucli a case, we ought always either to give 
another turn to tne expjcssion, or to use tlie noun itself, and 
not the pronoun ; for w hen the repetition of a word is neces- 
sary, it is not offensive. The translators of the Bible have 
often judiciously used Jiis method; I say judiciously, because, 
though the other iiiethod be on some occasions preferable, 
yet, by attempting the other, they would have run a much 
greater risk of destroying that beautiful simplicity, which is 
an eminent cliaracteristic of the language of Holy Writ. I 
sliall take an instance from the speech of Judah to his brother 
Joseph in Egypt : " We said to my lord. The lad cannot leave 
his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would 
die."t The words his father are in tiiis short verse thrice re- 
oeated, and yet are not disagreeable, as they contribute to 
perspicuity. Had the last part of the sentence run thus, " If 
he should leave his father, he would die," it w'ould not have 
ippeared from the expression whether it was the child or the 
parent that would die. Some have imagined that the pronoun 
ought always regularly to refer to the nearest preceding noun 
of the same gender and number. But this notion is founded 
in a mistake, and doth not suit the idiom of any language, 
ancient or modern. From the rank that some words main- 
lain in the sentence, if I may be allowed that expression, a 
reader will have a natural tendency to consider the pronoun 
as referring to tliem, without regard to their situation. Ih 
support of this observation I sliall produce two examples. 
The first shall be of the neuter singular of the third personal 

* I even think that the turn of the sentence is easier in English than in 
French : " Lysias, parlant des amis de son pere a son pere m6me, lui pro- 
mit de ne les abandonner jamais." It may be thouglit that, on the iirst 
supposition, there is a shorter way of removing the doubt. 5es propres amis, 
in French, and his own friemh, in English, would elTectually answer the 
end. But let it be observed, that the introduction of this appropriating 
term hatii an exclusive appearance with regard to others that might be very 
unsuitable. I observe farther, that the distinction in English between hit 
and her precludes several ambiguilies that aflect most other European 
tongnes. Suppose the promise had been made to the mother instead of 
the father, the simple enunciation of it would be equally ambiguous in 
French as in the other case. " Lysias promit a sa mere de n'abandonner 
jamais scs amis," is their expression, whether they be his friends or hars of 
(vhom he speaks. If it were a daughter to her father, the case would be 
;he same with them, butdilT'erent with us. I may remark here, by-the-way, 
iowmuch more this small distinction in regard to the antecedent conduces 
to perspicuity, than the distiiiclions of gender and i.nmber in regard to the 
ncuns with which they are joined. As to tliis last connexion, the place ol 
llv' yonoun always ascertains it, so that, for this purpose at least, th 
change of termination is supcrlluous. + Gen., xliv., 22. 


pronoun : ■' Hut I shall leave this subject to your manage- 
ment, and question not but you will throw it into such lights 
as shall at once improve and entertain your reader."* There 
is no ambiguity here, nor would it, on the most cursory read- 
ing, enter into the head of any person of common sense that 
llie pronoun it relates to management, which is nearer, and 
not to subject, which is more remote. Nor is it the sense only 
that directs us in this preference. There is another principle 
by which we are influenced. The accusative of the active 
verb is one chief object of attention in a sentence ; the regi 
men of that accusative hath but a secondary value ; it is re- 
garded only as explanatory of the former, or, at most, as an 
appendage to it. This consideration doth not affect those 
only who understand grammar, but all who understand the 
language. The different parts of speech, through the power 
of custom, produce their effect on those who are ignorant of 
their very names, as much as on the grammarian himself, 
though it is the grammarian alone who can give a rational 
account of these effects. The other example 1 promised to 
give shall be of the masculine of the same number and per- 
son, in the noted complaint of Cardinal Wolsey immediately 
after his disgrace ; 

' Had I but served my God wiih half the zeal 

1 served my liinj;, he would nut in mine age 

Have lel't me naked to mine enemies."t 

Here, though the word king is adjoining, and the word God ai 
some distance, the pronoun he cannot so regularly refer to 
that noun as to this. The reason is, the whole of the second 
clause, beginning with these words, " with half the zeal," 
maintains but a subordinate rank in the sentence, as it is in- 
troduced in explication of the first, and might be omitted, not 
indeed, without impairing, but without destroying the sense. 
Yet neither the rank in the sentence, nor the nearness of po- 
sition, will invariably determine the import of the relative 
Sometimes, indeed, as was observed by the French author 
last quoted, the sense of the words connected is sufficient to 
remove the ambiguity, though the reader should have no pre- 
vious knowledge of the subject. And, doubtless, it is equally 
reasonable to admit a construction which, though naturally 
equivocal, is fixed by the connexion, as to admit an equivo- 
cal term, the sense whereof is in this manner ascertained 
Of an ambiguity thus removed the following will serve for 
an example : " Alexander, having conquered Darius, made 
himself master of his dominions." His may refer grammat- 
ically either to Alexander or to Darius ; but as no man is said 
to make himself master of what was previously his own, the 
words connected pi-eve-nt the false sense from presenting it- 
self to the reader 

« Spect., No. 628. t Shakspeare. Henrv "VIH 


But It IS not the pronouns only that are liable to be used 
ambiguously. There is in adjectives, particularly, a grea' 
risk of ambiguity, when they are not adjoined to the substan- 
tives to which they belong. This hazard, it must be owned, 
is greater in our language than in most others, our adjectives 
having no declension whereby case, number, and gender are 
distinguished. Their relation, therefore, for the most part, is 
not otherwise to be ascertained but by their place. The fol- 
lowing sentence will serve for an example : " God heapeth 
favours on his servants ever liberal and faithful." Is it God 
or his servants that are liberal and faithfuH If the former, 
say, " God, ever liberal and faithful, heapeth favours on his 
servants." If the latter, say, either '" God heapeth favours on 
his ever-liberal and faitliful servants," or "his servants who 
are ever liberal and faithful." There is another frequent 
cause of ambiguity in the use of adjectives, which hath been 
as yet, in our language, very little attended to. Two or more 
are sometimes made to refer to the same substantive, when, 
in fact, they do not belong to the same thing, but to different 
things, wliich, being of the same kind, are expressed by the 
same generic name. I explain myself by an example : 
" Both tiie ecclesiastic and secular powers concurred in those 
measures." Here the two adjectives, ecclesiastic and secu- 
lar, relate to the same substantive powers, but do not relate 
to the same individual things, for the powers denominated 
ecclesiastic are totally different from those denominated sec- 
ular. Indeed, the reader's perfect knowledge of the differ- 
ence may prevent his attending to this ambiguity, or, rather, 
impropriety of speech. But this mode of expression ought 
to be avoided, because, if admitted in one instance where the 
meaning, perhaps, is clear to the generality of readers, a wri- 
ter will be apt inadvertently to fall into it in other instances 
where the meaning is not clear, nay, where most readers will 
be misled. This too common idiom may be avoided either by 
repeating the substantive, or by subjoimng the substantive to 
the first adjective, and prefixing the article to the second as 
well as to the first. Say, either " Both the ecclesiastic pow 
ers and the secular powers concurred in those peasures," or, 
which is perhaps preferable, " Both the ecclesiastic powers 
and the secular concurred in those measures." The substan- 
tive being posterior to the first adjective, and anterior to the 
second, the second, though it refers, cannot, according to 
jframmatical order, belotjg to it. The substantive is there- 
fore understood as repeated ; besides, the repetition of the 
article has the force to denote that this is not an additional 
epithet to the same subject, but belongs to a subject totally 
distinct, though coming under the same denomination. There 
is, indeed, one phrase liable to the aforesaid objectJDn, which 
use hath so firmly established, that I fear it would savour iff 


(itfectation to alter. The phrase I mean is, " The lords spir- 
itual and temporal in Parliament assembled." Nevertheless, 
when it is not expected that we should express ourselves in 
the style of the law, and when we are not quoting either a 
decision of the House of Peers or an act of Parliament, I 
imagine it would be better to say, "The spiritual lords and 
tlie temporal." On the contrary, wherever the two adjec- 
tives are expressive of qualities belonging to a subject, not 
only specifically, but individually the same, the other mode 
of speech is preferable, which m<ikes them belong also to the 
same noun. Thus we say properly, " The high and mighty 
states of Holland," because it is not some of the states that 
arc denominated ]ii<;h and others of them mighty, but both 
epithets are given alike to all. It would, therefore, be equal- 
ly faulty here to adopt such an arrangement as would make 
a reader conceive them to be different. In cases wherein 
the article is not used, the place of the substantive ought to 
show whether both adjectives belong to the same thing, or to 
different things having tlie same name. In the first case, the 
substantive ought either to precede both adjectives, or to fol 
low both ; in the second, it ought to follow the first adjective, 
and may be repeated after the second, or understood, as will 
best suit the harmony of the sentence or the nature of the 
composition ; for the second adjective caimot grammatically 
belong to the noun which follows the first, though that noun 
may properly suggest to the reader the word to be supplied. 
Thus I should say rightly, " It is the opinion of all good and 
wise men, that a vicious person cannot enjoy true happiness," 
because I mean to signify that this is the opinion of those to 
whom both qualities, goodness and wisdom, are justly attrib- 
uted. But the following passage in our version of the sacred 
text is not so proper : " Every scribe instructed unto the king- 
dom of heaven is like a householder, who bringeth out of his 
treasures things new and old.''* Both epithets cannot belong 
to the same things. Make but a small alteration in the order, 
and say new things and old, and you will add greatly both to 
the perspicuity and to the propriety of the expression. Ir 
cases similar to the example last quoted, if a preposition be 
necessary to the construction of the sentence, it ought to be 
repeated before the second adjective. Thus, " Death is the 
common lot of all, of good men and bad." But when both 
adjectives express the qualities of an identical subject, it is 
belter not to repeat the preposition. " The prince gave en 
couragement to all honest and industrious artificers of neigh- 
bouring nations to come and settle among his subjects." 
Here both qualities, honesty and industry, are required in ev- 
prv artificer encouraged by the prince. I shall observe last 

* Vlntthpw, xiii., 52. 


ly, on this article, that though the adjectives i elate to differ 
ent things, if no substantive be expressed, it is not necessarj 
to repeat the preposition. The reason is, that in sucli casea 
the adjectives are used substantively, or, to speak more prop- 
erly, are real substantives. Thus we may say, either " Death 
is the inevitable fate of good and bad, rich and poor, wise and 
foolish," or " of good and of bad, of rich and of poor." When 
the definite article is prefixed to the first adjective, it ought 
to be repeated before the second, if the adjectives are ex- 
pressive of qualities bolouging to different subjects, but not 
if they refer to the same subject. Thus we say rightly. 
' How immense the difference between the pious and the 
profane" — " 1 address myself only to the intelligent and at- 
tentive." In the former, the subjects referred to are mani- 
festly different; in the latter they coincide, as both qualities 
are required in every hearer. Tiie following passage is, by 
consequence, justly censurable. The exceptionable phrases 
are distinguished by the character : " Wisdom and folly, the 
virtuous and the vile, the learned and ignorant, the temperate 
and debauched, all give and return the jest.'"* For the same 
rea.son, and it is a sufficient reason, that he said " the virtu- 
ous and the vile," he ought to have said " the learned and the 
ignorant, the temperate and the debauched." 

I proceed to give examples in some of the other parts ol 
speech. The construction of substantive nouns is sometimes 
ambiguous. Take the following instance : " You shall sel 
dom find a dull fellow of good education, but (if he happen to 
have any leisure upon his hands) will turn his head to one of 
those two amusements for all fools of eminence, politics oi 
poetry. ""] The position of the words politics or poetry makes 
one at first imagine that, along with the term eminence, the> 
are affected by the preposition of, and construed \\\\\\ fools 
The repetition of the to after eminence would have totallj 
removed the ambiguity. A frequent cause of this fault in the 
construction of substantives, especially in verse, is when 
both what we call the nominative case and the accusative 
are put before the verb. As in nouns those cases are no) 
distinguished either by inflection or by prepositions, so neithci 
can they be distinguished in such instances by arrangement 

"The rising tomb a lofly column bore. "J 
Did the tomb bear the column, or ..he column the tombl 

" And thus the son the feryenl sire address'(].''ij 
This, though liable to the same objection, may be more ea 
sily rectified, at least in a considerable measure. As the pes 
sessive pronoun is supposed to refer to some preceding noun 
which, for distinction's sake, I have here called the antece 

* Brown on the Characteristics, Ess. '..sect. v. f Spectator, No. 43 

t Pope's O.'/yssey, book .vii. (j Ibid., book xix. 


dent, though the term is not often used in so great latitude, it 
is always better to be construed with the accusative of the 
verb, and to refer to the nominative as its antecedent. The 
reason is, the nominative, to which it most naturally refers, 
whether actually preceding or not, is always conceived in 
the order of things to precede. If, then, it was the son who 
spoke, say, 

"And thus the son his fervent sire address'd." 
If the father, 

" And thus his son the fervent sire address'd." 
In confirmation of this, let us consider the way in which 
we should express ourselves in plain prose, without any trans- 
position of words. F'or the first, " Thus the son addressed 
Ids father;" for the second, "Thus the father addressed his 
son," are undoubtedly good ; whereas, to say in lieu of the 
first, " Thus his son addressed the father ;" and in lieu of the 
second, " Thus his father addressed the son," are not English. 
By the English idiom, therefore, the possessive pronoun is, 
in such instances, more properly joined to the regimen of 
the verb than to the nominative. If this practice were uni- 
versal, as it is both natural and suitable to the genius of our 
tongue, it would always indicate the construction wherevei 
the possessive pronoun could be properly introduced. Foi 
this reason I consider the two following lines as much clear- 
er of the charge of ambiguity than the former quotation from 
the same work : 

" Young Ityhis, his parent'.s dading joy, 

Wli'jiu chance misled the rr.other to destroy."* 

For though the words whom and the mother are both in the 
accusative, the one as the regimen of the active verb misled, 
the other as the regimen of the active verb destroy, yet the 
destroyer or agent is conceived in the n?.tural order as pre- 
ceding the destroyed or patient. If, therefore, the last line 
had been, 

" Whom chance misled his mother to destroy," 
It would have more naturally imported that the son destroy- 
ed his mother ; as it stands, it more naturally imports, agree- 
ably to the poet's design, that the mother destroyed her son 
there being, in this last case, no access for the possessive 
pronoun. I acknowledge, however, that uniform usage can- 
not (though both analogy and utility may) be pleaded in fa- 
vour of the distinction now made. I therefore submit entire- 
ly to the candid and judicious the propriety of observing it 
for the future. 

The following is an example of ambiguity in using con- 
junctions : "At least my own private letters leave room fi>' 

* Pope's Odvs.-;ey, book "iix 


a poliL 'jian, well versed in matters of this nature, to suspect 
25 much, as a penetrating friend of mine tells me "* Tlia 
particle as, which in this sentence immediately precedes the 
word a penctraling friend, makes frequently a part of these 
compound conjunctions as much as, as well as, as far as. It 
will, therefore, naturally appear at first to belong to the words 
as much, which immediately precede it. But as this is not 
really the case, it ought to have been otherwise situated ; for 
it is not enough that it is separated by a comma, these small 
distinctions in the pointing being but too frequently overlook- 
ed. Alter the arrangement, then, and the expression will be 
no longer ambiguous : " At least my own private letters, as 
a penetrating friend of mine tells me, leave room for a pol- 
iticic.n well versed in matters of this nature to suspect as 
much." In the succeeding passage the same author gives us 
an example of ambiguity in the application of an adverb and 
a conjunction : " I beseech you, sir, to inform these fellows, 
;liat they have not the spleen, because they cannot talk with- 
lut the help of a glass, or convey their meaning to each oth- 
er without the interposition of clouds. "f The ambiguity here 
nes in the two words not and because. What follows because 
appears on the first hearing to be the reason why the person 
here addressed is desired to inform these fellows that they 
are not splenetic ; on the second, it appears to be the reason 
why people ought to conclude that they are not ; and on the 
third, the author seems only intending to signify that this is 
not a sufficient reason to make anybody conclude that they 
are. Thrs error deserves our notice the more, that it is of- 
ten to be found even in our best writers. 

Sometimes a particular expression is so situated that it 
may be construed with more or less of another particular ex- 
pression which precedes it in the sentence, and may conse- 
quently exhibit diff'erent senses : " He has, by some strange 
magic, arrived at the value of half a plum, as the citizens 
call a hundred thousand pounds. '''% Is it a plum or half a plum 
which the citizens call " a hundred thousand pounds T' "1 
will spend a hundred or two pounds rather than be enslaved. "J 
This is another error of the same sort, but rather worse. 
Hundred cannot regularly be understood between the adjec- 
tive two and its substantive pounds. Besides, the indefinite 
article a cannot properly express one side of the alternative, 
and supply the place of a numeral adjective opposed to two. 
The author's meaning would have been better expressed ei- 
ther of these ways : " I will spend one or two hundred 
pounds," or, " I will spend one hundred pounds or two rather 
than be enslaved." In the former case it is evident that tlie 

♦ Spect , >o. 43. + Ibid, Mo. 53 

t Tatler Nu. 40. ' S«-ift \n Sheridar 


words hundred pounds belong to both numtral adjectiveo ; iu 
the latter, that they are understood after ihe second. The 
reierence and construction of the concluding words in the 
next quotation is very indefinite : " My (christian and surname 
begin and end with the same letters."* Doth his Christian 
name begin with the same letter that his surname begins 
witli, and end with the same letter that his surname ends 
w:,h ; or doth his Christian name end with the same letter 
wilt, which it begins, and his surname also end with the same 
letter with which it begins ] or, lastly, are all these four let- 
ters, the first and the last of each name, the same letter 'f 

Sometimes a particular clause or expression is so situated 
that it may be construed with different members of the sen- 
tence, and thus exhibit different meanings : "It has not a 
word," says Pope, " but what the author religiously thinks 
m it.'"X One would at first imagine his meaning to be, that 
it had not a word which the author did not think to be in it. 
Alter a little the place of the last two words, and the ambi- 
guity will be removed : " it has not a word in it but what the 
author rehgiously thinks." Of the same kind, also, is the 
subsequent quotation : " Mr. Dryden makes a very handsome 
observation on Ovid's writing a letter from Dido to ^Eneas, 
171 the following words.''^^ Whether arc the following luords, 
the words of Dido's letter, or of Dryden's observation ^ Be- 
fore you read them, you will more readily suppose them to 
be the words of the letter; after reading them, you find they 
are the words of the observation. The order ought to have 
been, " Mr. Dryden, in the following words, makes a very 
handsome observation on Ovid's writing a letter from Dido to 

I shall conclude this section with an instance of that kind 
jf ambiguity which the French call a squinting construction ,-|| 
\hat is, when a clause is so situated in a sentence that one is 
at first at a loss to know whether it ought to be connected 
with the words which go before, or with those which come 
after. Take the following passage for an example : "As it 
is necessary to have the head clear as well as the complex- 
ion, to be perfect in this part of learning, 1 rarely mingle with 
the men, but frequent the tea-tables of the ladies. "^[ Wheth- 
er, " To be perfect in this part of learning, it is necessary to 
have the head clear as well as the complexion ;" or, " To be 
perfect in this part of learning, does he rarely mingle with 
the men, but frequent the tea-tables of the ladies V Which 
ever of these be the sense, the words ought to have been oth- 
erwise ranged. 

* Spect., No. 505, O. 

t An example of the first is Andrew Askew, of the second Hezekiah 
Thrift, and of the third Norman Neilson. % Guardian, No. 4. 

^ Spect.. No. e2 P Construction louche. if Guardian. No. 10. 





1 HWE already considered two of the principal and mosi 
common offences against perspicuity, and come now to make 
some remarks on the third and last offence mentioned in the 
cniimciration formerly given. It was observed that a speak- 
er may not only express liimself obscurely, and so convey 
his meaning imperfectly to the mind of the hearer ; that he 
may not only express himself ambiguously, and so, along 
with his own, convey a meaning entirely different ; but even 
express himself unintelligibly, and so convey no meaning at 
all. One would, indeed, think it hardly possible that a man 
of sense, who perfectly understands the language which he 
useth, should ever speak or write in such a manner as to be 
altogether unintelligible. Yet this is what frequently hap- 
pens. The cause of this fault in any writer I take to be al- 
ways one or other of the three following : first, great confu- 
sion of thought, which is commonly accompanied with intri- 
cacy of expression ; secondly, affectation of excellence in the 
diction; thirdly, a total want of meaning. I do not mention 
as one of the causes of this imputation a penury of language, 
though this, doubtless, may contribute to produce it. In fact, 
I never found one who had a justness of apprehension, and 
was free from affectation, at a loss to make himself under- 
stood in his native tongue, even though he had little com- 
mand of language, and made but a bad choice of words 

Part I. From Confusion of Thought. 
The first cause of the unintelligible in composition is con 
fusion of thought. Language, as hath been already observ- 
ed, is the medium through which the sentiments of the wri- 
ter are perceived by the reader; and though the impurity or 
the grossness of the medium will render the image obscure 
or indistinct, yet no purity in the medium will suffice for ex- 
hibiting a distinct and unvarying image of a confused and un- 
steady object. There is a sort of half- formed thoughts, which 
we sometimes find writers impatient to give the world, be- 
fore they themselves are fully possessed of them. New, il 
ihr. \iriter himself perceived confusedly and imperfectly the 
sentiments he would communicate, it is a thousand to one 
the reader will not perceive them at all. But how, then, it 
may be asked, shall he be qualified lor discovering the cause, 
and distinguishing in the writer between a confusion of 
thought and a total want of meaning^ I answer, that in ex- 
amples of this kind the cause will sometimes, not alwjTys. be 
discovered by means of an attentive and frequent perusal of 
the words and context. Some meaning, after long poiing 


Will perhaps be traced ; bin in all such cases we n^ay be said 
more properly to d.vine what the author would say, than to 
understand what he says ; and, therefore, all such sentences 
deserve to be ranked among- the unintelligible. If a discovery 
of the sense be made, that it is made ought rattier to be as 
cribed to the sagacity of the reader than to the elocution ol 
the writer. This species of the unintelligible (which, by-the- 
way, differs not in kind, but in degree, from the obscurity al- 
ready considered, being no other than that bad quality in the 
extreme) I shall exemplify first in simple, and afterward in 
complex sentences. 

First in simple sentences: "I have observed," says Sir 
Richard Steele, who, though a man of sense and genius, was 
a great master in this style, " that the superiority among 
these," he is speaking of some coffee-house politicians, " pro- 
ceeds from an opinion of gallantry and fashion."* This sen- 
tence, considered in itself, evidently conveys no meaning. 
First, it is not said whose opinion, their ovvn or that of oth- 
ers ; secondly, it is not said what opinion, or of what sort, 
favourable or unfavourable, true or false, but, in general, an 
opinion of gallantry and fashion, which contains no definite 
expression of any meaning. With the joint assistance of 
the context, reflection, and conjecture, we shall perhaps con- 
clude that the author intended to say " that the rank among 
these politicians was determined by the opinion generally 
entertained of the rank in point of gallantry and fashion that 
each of them had attained." But no part of this is expressed. 
Another specimen : "And as to a well-taught mind, when 
you've said a haughty and proud man, you have spoke a nar- 
row conception, little spirit, and despicable carriage."! Here, 
too, it is possible to guess the intention of the author, but not 
to explain the import of the expression. 

Take the two following examples of complex sentences 
from the same hand : " I must confess we live in an age 
wherein a few empty blusterers carry away the praise o> 
speaking, while a crowd of fellows overstocked with knowl- 
edge are run downi by them : I say overstocked, because they 
certainly are so, as to their service of mankind, if from their 
very store they raise to themselves ideas of respect and 
greatness of the occasion, and 1 know not what, to disable 
themselves from explaining their thoughts. "{ The other ex- 
ample is, " The serene aspect of these writers, joined with 
the great encouragement I observe is given to another, or, 
what is indeed to be suspected, in which he indulges himself, 
confirmed me in the notion I have of the prevalence of am- 
bition this way.">^ But leaving thi?, "vhich is, indeed, the 

* Spectator, No. 49. t Ounniian, No. 2ij 

t Spect., No. 484. ^ Guanimn. ? o I. 


dullest species of the unintelligible, I proceed to the second 
class, that which arises from an affectation of excellence 

Part II. From Affectation of Excellence. 
In this there is always something figurative ; but the fig. 
ures are remote, and things heterogeneous are combined. I 
shall exemplify this sort also, first in a few more simple sen- 
tences, and then in such as are more complex. Of the for- 
mer, take the following instances : " Tiiis temper of soul," 
Bays the Guardian, speaking of meekness and humility, 
" keeps our understanding tighi about us."* Whether the 
author had any meaning in this expression, or what it was, I 
shall not take upon me to determine ; but hardly could any- 
thing more incongruous in the way of metaphor have been 
"magined. The understanding is made a girdle to our other 
mental faculties, for the fastening of which girdle meekness 
and huniiUty serve for a buckle. " A man is not qualified for 
a butt who has not a good deal of wit and vivacity, even in 
the ridiculous side of his charactery\ It is only the additional 
clause in the end lliat is here exceptionable. What a strange 
jumble! A man's wit and vivacity placed on tlie side of his 
character. Sometimes, in a sentence sufficiently perspicu- 
ous, we shall find an unintelligible clause inserted, which, as 
it adds not to the sense, serves only to interrupt the reader 
and darken the sentiment. Of this the following passage 
will serve for an example : " I seldom see a noble building, 
or any great piiece of magnificence and pomp, but I think 
how little is all this to satisfy the ambition or to fill the idea of 
an immortal soul. "J Pray what addition does the phrase to 
fill the idea make to the sense, or what is the meaning of it 1 
I shall subjoin, for the sake of variety, one poetical example 
from Dryden, who, speaking of the universal deluge, says, 

" Yet when that flood in its own depths was drowned, 
It left behind its false and slippery ground. "ij 

The first of these lines appears to me marvellously nonsen- 
sical. It informs us of a prodigy never heard of or con- 
ceived before, a drowned flood ; nay, which is still more 
extraordinary, a flood that was so excessively deep, that 
after leaving nothing else to drown, it turned, /e/o de se, and 
drowned itself. And, doubtless, if a flood can be in danger 
of drowning in itself, the deeper it is, the danger must be \.hv. 
greater. So far, at least, the author talks consequentially. 
His meaning, expressed in plain language (for the line itself 
hath no meaning), was probably no more than this : " When 
the waters of the deluge had subsided." 

* Guardian, No. 1. t Spe;t«tor, No. 47 

X Pope's Thoughl.s on various Subjects. ' 

i Panegyric on the Coronation oi K»cie Charles II. 


1 proceed to give, examples of a still higher order, in sen 
tences more complicated. These 1 shall produce from an 
author who, though far from being deficient in aculencss, in- 
\ention, or vivacity, is perhaps, in this species of composi- 
tion, the most eminent of all that have written in the English 
language : " If the savour of things lies across to honest)% 
if the fancy be florid, and the appetite high towards the sub- 
altern beauties and lower order of worldly symmetries and 
proportions, the conduct will infallibly turn this latter way."* 
This is that figure of speech which the French critics call 
galimatias, and the English comprehend under the general 
name bombast, and which may not improperly be defined the 
sublime of nonsense. You have lofty images and high-sound- 
ing words, but are always at a loss to find the sense. The 
meaning, where there is a meaning, cannot be said to be 
communicated and adorned by the words, but is rather buried 
under them. Of the same kind are the two following quota- 
tions from the same author : " Men must acquire a very pe- 
culiar and strong habit of turning their eye inward, in order 
to explore the interior regions and recesses of the mind, the 
hollow caverns of deep thought, the private seats of fancy, 
and the wastes and wildernesses, as well as the more fruitful 
and cultivated tracts of this obscure climate."! A most won- 
derful way of telling us that it is difficult to trace the opera- 
tions of the mind. This may serve to give some notion of 
the figure which the French Phoebus — no offence to the Gre- 
cian, who is of a very different family — is capable of making 
in an English dress. His loi'dship proceeds in his own inim- 
itable manner, or, rather, in what follows hath outdone him 
self : " But what can one do 1 or how dispense with these 
darker disquisitions and moonlight voyages, w'hen we have 
to deal with a sort of moonblind wits, who, though very 
acute and able in their kind, may be said to renounce day- 
light, and extinguish, in a manner, the bright visible outward 
world, by allowing us to know nothing besides what we can 
prove by strict and formal demonstration."! It must be 
owned, the conditic^n of those wits is truly deplorable ; for, 
though very acute and able in their kind, yet being moon 
blind, they cannot see by night, and having renounced day 
light, they will not see by day ; so that, for any use they have 
of their ej'es, they are no belter than stone blind. It is as- 
tonishing, too, that the reason for rendering a moonlight voy- 
age indispensable is, that we have moonblind persons only 
for our company, the very reason which, to an ordinary un- 
derstanding, would seem to render such a voyage improper. 
When one narrowly examines a piece of writing of *hi» 
stamp, one finds one's self precisely in the situation ol the 

* Characteristics, vol. iii., Misc. ii., chap. ii. 

*• Ibid. Misc. i« chap. ii. I WiA., .Misc. iv., chap, is 

7. •}. 


fox in the fable, turning over and considering the tragedian'a 
mask,* and can hardly refrain from exclaiming in the same 

" How vast a head is here without a brain I'M 

Paiit III. From Want of Meaning. 
I come now to the last class of the unintelligible, which 
proceeds from a real want of meaning in the writer. Instan- 
ces of this sort are, even in the works of good authors, much 
more numerous than is commonly imagined. But how .shall 
this defect be discovered ] There are, indeed, cases in which 
it is hardly discoverable ; there are cases, on the contrary, 
in which it may be easily discovered. There is one remarka- 
ble difference between this class of I he unintelligible and that 
which was first taken notice of, proceeding from confusion 
of thought, accompanied with intricacy of expression. When 
this is the cause of the difficulty, the reader will not fail, if he 
be attentive, to hesitate at certain intervals, and to retrace 
his progress, finding himself bewildered in the terms, and at 
a loss for the meaning. Then he will try to construe the 
sentence, and to ascertain the significations of the words. 
By these lueans, and by the help of the context, he will pos- 
sibly come at last at what the author would have said ; 
whereas, in that species of the unintelligible which proceeds 
from a vacuity of thought, the reverse commonly liappens 
The sentence is generally simple in its structure, and the 
construction easy. When this is the case, provided words 
glaringlj' unsuitable are not combined, the reader proceeds 
without hesitation or doubt. He never suspects that he does 
not understand a sentence, the terms of which are familiar 
to him, and of which he perceives distinctly the grammatical 
order. But if he be by any means induced to think more 
closely on the subject, and to peruse the words a second 
time more attentively, it is probable that he will then begin 
to suspect them, and will at length discover that they contair. 
nothing but either an identical proposition, which conveys no 
knowledge, or a proposition of that kind of which one can- 
not so much as affirm that it is either true or false. And 
this is justly allowed to be tlie best criterion of nonsense. J 

♦ Persona tragica is cominonly rendered so; but it was very dificrent 
from what is called a mask with us. It was a case which covered the 
whole head, and had a face painted on it suitable to the character to he 
represented by it. 

+ " O quanta species, inquit, ast cerebrum non habet !" — PhtBdrus. 

X Of ail that is written in tliis style, we may justly say, in the wotds of 
Lorvl Verulam (De Aug. Sci., 1. vi., c. ii.), applymg to a particular purpose 
the "">rds of Horace, 

"Tantum series juncturaque pollet, 
Tantum de medio suniptis accedit honoris ;" 
•■ liJ «De.ciem artis, nescic cuius, pra?clarae saepenumero roportent ea, qua 


It s, indeed, more difficult to distinguish sentences A' thia 
kind from those of the second class of the unintelligible al- 
ready discussed, in which the darkness is chiefly imputable 
to an affectation of excellence. But in these matters it is not 
of importance to fix the boundaries with precision. Some- 
times pompous metaphors and sonorous plirases are injudi- 
ciously employed to add a dignity to the most trivial concep- 
tions ; sometimes they are made to serve as a vehicle for 
nonsense ; and whether some of the above citations fall under 
the one denomination or the other would scarcely be worth 
while to inquire. It hath been observed, that in madmen there 
IS as great a variety of character as in those who enjoy the 
use of their reason. In like manner, it may be said of non- 
sense, that, in writing it, there is as great scope for variety of 
style as there is in writing sense. I shall, therefore, not at- 
tempt to give specimens of all the characters of style which 
this kind of composition admits. The task would be endless. 
Let it suffice to specify some of the principal. 


The first I shall mention is the puerile, which is always pro 
duced when an author runs on in a specious verbosity, amu- 
sing his readers with synonymous terms and identical propo- 
sitions, well-turned periods, and high-sounding words ; but, at 
the same time, using those words so indefinitely, that the lat- 
ter can either affix no meaning to them at all, or may almost 
affix any meaning to them he pleases. " If 'tis asked," says 
a late writer, " whence arises this harmony or beauty of lan- 
guage ] what are the rules for obtaining it] the answer is ob- 
vious : Whatever renders a period sweet and pleasant makes 
it also graceful ; a good ear is the gift of Nature ; it may be 
much improved, but not acquired by art ; whoever is possess- 
ed of it will scarcely need dry critical precepts to enable him 
to judge of a true rhythmus and melody of composition; 
just numbers, accurate proportions, a musical symphony, 
magnificent figures, and that decorum which is the result of 
all these, are unison to the human mind ; we are so framed 
by Nature that their charm is irresistible. Hence all ages 
and nations have been smit with the love of the Muses.'"* 
Who can now be at a loss to know whence the harmony and 
beauty of language arises, or what the rules for obtaining it 
are 1 Through the whole paragraph the author proceeds in 
the same careless and desultory manner, not much unlike 
that of the tritical essay upon the faculties of the mind ; af- 
fording at times some glimmerings of sense, and perpetually 

sisolvantur, segregenlur, et denudentur, ad nihilum fere recasura forent." 
As to the causes ol" the deception there is in this manner of writing, I shall 
ittempt the investigation of them in the following chapter. 
* Oeddes on the Composition of the Ancients, sect. i. 


ringing the changes on a few favourite words and phrases. 
A poetical example of the same signature, in which there is 
not even a glimpse of meaning, we have in the following lines 
:f Dryden: 

"From harmony, from heavenly harmony, 

This universal frame began : 

From harmony to harmony. 
Through all the compass of the notes it ran, 
The diapason closmg full in man."* 

In general it may be said, that in writings of this stamp wc 
must accept of sound instead of sense, being assured, at least, 
that if we meet with little that can inform the judgment, we 
shall find nothing that will offend the ear 


Another sort I shall here specify is the learned nonsense. 
1 know not a more fruitful source of this species than scho- 
lastic theology. The more incomprehensible the subject is, 
the greater scope has the declaimer to talk plausibly without 
any meaning. A specimen of this I shall give from an au- 
thor who should have escaped this animadversion, had he 
not introduced from the pulpit a jargon which (if we can say 
without impropriety that it was fit for anything) was surely 
fitter for a cloister; for what cannot in the least contribute 
to the instruction of a Christian society, may afford excellent 
matter of contemplative amazement to dronish monks. " Al- 
though we read of several properties attributed to God in 
Scripture, as wisdom, goodness, justice, &c., we must not 
apprehend them to be several powers, habits, or qualities, as 
they are in us ; for as they are in Cod, they are neither dis- 
tinguished from one another, nor from his nature or essence 
in whom they are said to be. In whom, 1 say, they are said to 
be ; for, to speak properly, they are not in him, but are his very 
essence or nature itself ; which, acting severally upon several 
objects, seem to us to act from several properties or perfections 
in him ; whereas, all the difference is only in our diff'erent ap- 
prehensions of the same thing. God in himself is a most sim- 
ple and pure act, and therefore cannot have anything in him 
but what is that most simple and pure act itself; which, seeing 
it brii.geth upon every creature what it deserves, we conceive 
of it as of several divine perfections in the same almighty Be- 
ing ; whereas God, whose understanding is infinite as himself 
dotn not apprehend himself under the distinct notions of wis 
dom, or goodness, or justice, or the like, but only as Jeliovah."| 
IIow edifying must it have been to the hearers to be made 
acquainted with these deep discoveries of the men of sci- 
ence : divine attributes, which are no altributts, whicli art 
totally distinct and perfectly the saine ; which are justly as 

♦ Sons for St. Cecilia's Day, 1G87. t Beveridoe's iSermo'i* 


cribed to God, being ascribed to him in Scripture, but do no! 
belong to him ; which are something and nothing, which are 
the figments of human imagination, mere chimeras, which 
are God himself, which are the actors of all things ; and 
which, to sum up all, are themselves a simple act ! " Who 
is this thai darkcneth counsel by toords ivilhout knowledge ?"* 
Can the tendency of such teaching be any other than to p*'>*> 
plcx and to confound, and even to throw the hearers into uni- 
versal doubt and skepticism 1 To such a style of explica- 
tion these lines of our British bard, addressed to the patron- 
ess of Sophistry as well as Dulness, are admirably adapted: 
" Explain upon a thing till all men doubt it, 
And write about it, goddess, and about it.''t 

Of the same kind of school-metaphysics are these lines ol 
Cowley ; 

" Nothing is there to come, and nothing pas;, 
But an eternal nnw does always last. "J 

What an insatiable appetite has this bastard-philosophy lor 
absurdity and contradiction! A ixow that lasts; that is, an 
instant which continues during successive instants ; an eter- 
nal now, an instant that is no instant, and an eternity that is 
no eternity. I have heard of a preacher who, desirous to ap- 
pear very profound, and to make observations on the com- 
monest subjects, which had never occurred to anybody before, 
remarked, as an instance of the goodness of Providence, that 
the moments of time come successively, ana not simultane- 
ously or together, which last method of coining would, he 
said, occasion infinite confusion in tlie world. Many of his 
audience concluded his remark to be no better than a bull ; 
and yet it is fairly defensible on the principles of the school- 
men, if that can be called principles which consists merely 
in words. According to them, what Pope says hyperbolical- 
ly of the transient duration and narrow range of man, is a 
literal description of the eternity and immensity of God : 

" His lime a moment, and a point his space. "^ 
I remember to have seen it somewhere remarked, that man- 
kind being necessarily incapable of making a present of any- 
thing to God, have conceived, as a succedaneous expedient, 
the notion of destroying what should be offered to him, or, at 
least, of rendering it unfit for any purpose. Something simi- 
lar appears to have taken place in regard to the explana- 
tion of the Divine nature and attributes attempted by some 
theorists. On a subject so transcendent, if it be impossible 
to be sublime, it is easy to be unintelligible. And that the 
theme is naturally incomprehensible, they seem to have con- 
wdered as a full apology for them in being perfectly absurd 

» Job, xxxviii., 2, + Dunciad. 

t Davideis, book i ^ Essay on Man, Fp i 


In the lorme'- case, what people could not in strictness be- 
stow upon their Maker, they could easily render unfit for the 
use of men ; and in the latter, if one cannot grasp what is 
abovt tlie reach of reason, one can without difficulty say a 
thousan.l things which are contrary to reason. 

But though scholastic theology be tlie principal, it is i.ot 
the only subject of learned nonsense. In other branches of 
pneumatology we often meet with rhapsodies of the same 
kind. I shall take an example from a late honourable wri- 
ter, who, though he gives no quarter to the rants of others, 
sometimes falls into the ranting strain himself: "Pleasures 
are the objects of self-love ; happiness, that of reason. Rea- 
son is so far from depriving us of the first, that happiness 
consists in a series of them ; and as this can neither be at- 
tained nor enjoyed securely out of society, a due use of our 
reason makes social and self-love coincide, or even become 
in effect the same. The condition wlierein we are born and 
bred, the very condition so much complained of, prepares us 
for this coincidence, the foundation of all jiuman happiness ; 
and our whole nature, appetite, passion, and reason concur 
to promote it. As our parents loved themselves in us, so 
we love ourselves in our children, and in those to whom we 
are most nearly related by blood. 'I'hus far instinct improves 
self-love. Reason improves it farther. We love ourselves 
in our neighbours, and in our friends too. with Tully's leave ; 
for if friendship is formed by a kind of sympathy, it is culti- 
vated by good offices. Reason proceeds. We love our- 
selves in loving the political body whose members we are; 
and we love ourselves when we extend our benevolence to all 
mankind. These are the genuine effects of reason."* I would 
not be understood to signify that there is no meaning in any 
clause of this quotation, but that the greater part of it is un- 
meaning ; and that the whole, instead of exhibiting a con- 
nected train of thought, agreeably to the author's intention, 
presents us only v/ilh a few trifling or insignificant phrases 
speciously strung together. The very first sentence is just- 
;y exceptionable in this respect. Had he said, " Pleasure is 
the object of appetite, happiness that of self-love," there had 
been some sense in it ; as it stands, 1 suspect there is none. 
Pope, the great admirer and versifier of this philosophy, hath 
succeeded much better in contradistinguishing the provin- 
ces of reason and passion, where he says, 

" Reason the card, but passion is the gale."! 
This always the mover, that the guide. As the card serves 
equally to point to us the course that we must steer, whatev- 
er be the situation of the port we are bound for, east or west, 
south or north, so reason serves equally to indicate the means 

* Bolingb. Ph. Fr., 51. t Essay on Man Rp. i> 


that we must employ for the attainment of any end, wniitev 
er that end be (right or wronfr, profitable or pernicious), which 
passion impels us to pursue.* All that follows of the passage 
quoted abounds with the like loose and indefinite declama- 
tion. If the author had any meaning, a point very question- 
able, he hath been very unhappy and very unphilosophical in 
expressing it. What are we to make of the coincidence or 
Gameness of self-love and social affection produced by rea- 
son? What of parents loving themselves in their children? 
&c., &c. Anything you please, or nothing. It is a saying 
of Hobbes, which this author hath quoted with deserved com- 
mendation, that " words are the counters of wise men, but 
the money of foo]«." The thought is ingenious and happily 
expressed. I shal_. only remark upon it, that this noble wri- 
termay be produced as one of many witnesses, to prove that 
it is not peculiar to fools to fall into this error. He is a wise 
man indeed who never mistakes these counters for legal coin. 
So much for the learned nonsense ; and doubtless, if non- 
sense ever deserves to be exposed, it is when she has the ar 
"ogance to assume the garb of wisdom 


1 proceed to another species, which I shall denominate the 
profound, and which is most commonly to be met with in po- 
litical writings. Nowhere else do we find the merest no- 
things set off with an air of solemnity, as the result of very 
deep thought and sage reflection. Of this kind, however, I 
shall produce a specimen, which, in confirmation of a remark 
made in the preceding paragraph, shall be taken from a justly 
celebrated tract, of a Justly celebrated pen : " 'Tis agreed," ' 
says Swift, " that in all governments there is an absolute and 
unlimited power, which naturally and originally seems to be 
placed in the whole body, wherever the executive part of it 
lies. This holds in the body natural ; for wherever we place 
the beginning of motion, whether from the head, or the heart, 
or the animal spirits in general, the body moves and acts by 
a consent of all its parts."! The first sentence of this passage 
contains one of the most hackneyed maxims of the writers 
on politics ; a maxim, however, of which it will be more dif- 
ficult than is commonly imagined to discover, I say, not the 
justness, but the sense. The illustration from the natural 
body, contained in the second sentence, is indeed more gla-;' 
ringly nonsensical. What it is that constitutes this consent 
of all the parts of the body, which must be obtained previous- 

* FoT the farther elucidation of this point, see the analysis of persuasion 
given in book i., chap. viL, sect. iv. 

t Disc, of the Contests and Dissensions in Athens and Romp, first seir 


ly to every motion, is, I will take upon me to affirm, utterly 
inconceivable. Yet the whole of the paragraph from which 
this quotation is taken hath such a speciousness in it, that it 
is a hundred to one even a judicious reader will not, on the 
first perusal, be sensible of the defect. 


The last species of nonsense to be exemplified I shall de- 
lioniinate the marvellous. It is the characteristic of this kind 
that it astonishes and even confounds by the boldness of the 
affirmations, which always appear flatly to contradict the 
plainest dictates of common sense, and thus to involve a 
manifest absurdity. I know no sort of authors that so fre 
quently abound in this manner as some artists who have at- 
tempted to philosophize on the principles of their art. I shall 
give an example from the English translation of a French 
book,* as there is no example which I can remember at pres- 
ent in any book written originally in our own language : " Na- 
ture," says this writer, " in herself is unseemly, and he who 
:opies her servilely, and without artifice, will always pro- 
duce something poor, and of a mean lasle. What is called 
load in colours and lights can only proceed from a profound 
knowledge in the values of colours, and from an admirable 
nidustry, which makes the painted objects appear more true, 
if I may say so, than the real ones. In this sense it may be 
asserted, that in Rubens's pieces Art is above Nature, and 
Nature only a copy of that great master's works." What a 
strange subversion, or inversion, if you will, of all the most 
obvious, and hitherto undisputed truths. Not satisfied with 
affirming tlie unseemliness of every production of Nature, 
whom this pliilosopher hath discovered to be an arrant bun- 
gler, and the immense superiority of human Art, whose hum- 
ble scholar dame Nature might be proud to be acco'Mited, he 
riseth to asseverations which shock all our notions, and ut- 
terly defy the powers of apprehension. Painting is found to 
be the original; or, rather, Rubens's pictures are the original 
and Nature is the copy ; and, indeed, very consequentially, 
the former is represented as the standard by which the beau- 
ty and perfections of the latter are to be estimated. Nor do 
the qualifying phrases, if I may say so, "ind in this sense it may 
be asserted, make here the smallest odds. For as this sublime 
critic has nowhere hinted what sense it is which he denom 
inates this sense, so I believe no reader will be able to con 
jocture what the author miffht have said, and not absurdly 
s:aid, to the same effect. The misfortune is, that rvhen the 
expression is stripped of the absurd meaning,^ there remains 

* De Piles's Principles of Painting. 

+ For the propriety and impC'"'; of this expression, see ch. vii -c. iL 


nothing but balderdash,* an unmeaning jumble of words which 
at first seem to announce some great discovery. f Specimens 
of the same kind are sometimes also to be met with in the 
poets. Witness the famous protestation of an heroic lover 
in one of Dryden's plays : 

" My wound is great, because it is so small." 
The nonsense of which was properly exposed by an extem- 
porary verse of the Duke of Buckingham, who, on hearing 
this line, exclaimed in the house, 

" It would be greater were it none at all." 

l]3"p3rbole, carried to extravagance, is much of a piece, and 
never fails to excite disgust, if not laughter, instead of admi 
ration. Of this the famous laureat just now quoted, though 
indeed a v«3ry considerable genius, affords, among many oth- 
er striking instances, that which follows : 

" That star, that at your birth shone out so bright, 
It Etain'd the duller sun's meridian light. "| 

Such vile fustian ought to be carefully avoided by every wri 

Thus I have illustrated, as far as examples can illustrate, 
some of the principal varieties to be remarked in unmeaning 
sentences or nonsense — the puerile, the learned, the profound, 
and the marvellous ; together with those other classes of the 
unintelligible, arising either from confusion of thought, ac- 
companied with intricacy of expression, or from an exces 
sive aim at excellence in the style and manner. 

So much for the explication of the first rhetorical quality 
of style, perspicuity, with the three ways of expressing one's 
self by which it may be injured — the obscure, the double 
meaning, and the unintelligible. 

■' The latter part of the sentence was thus expressed in the first edition, 
" A jumble of bold words without meaning." To this phraseology exception 
was taken, which, though not entirely just, appears to have arisen from 
some obscurity, perhaps ambiguity, in the expression. This, I hope, is re- 
moved by the alteration now made. 

t Since writing the above observations, I have seen De Piles's original 
performance, and find that his translator hath, in this place at least, done 
riim no injustice. The whole passage in the French is as follows : "La 
Nature est ingrate d'elle-m6me. et qui s'attacheroit a la copier simplement 
comme elle est et sans artifice, feroit toujours quelque chose de pauvre et 
d'un tres petit gout. Ce que vous nommez e.xagerations dans les couleur?, 
Ct dans les lumieres, est une admirable Industrie qui fait paroitre les ob- 
jcts peints plus veritables, s'il faut ainsi dire, que les veritables m6mes. C'est que les tableau.x de Rubens sont plus beaux que la Nature, laquelie 
3emble n'eire que la copie des ouvrages de ce grand homme." — Recueil de 
divers Ouvrages sw la Peiriture et le Coloris, par M. de Piles, Paris, 1755, p. 
225. This is ralher worse than the English. The qualifying phrase in the 
tast sentence, we find, is the translator's, who seems, out of sheer modesty, 
lo have brought it to cover nudities. His intention was good, but this i» 
such a rag as cannot answer. t Dryden on the Pesloratior 

A A 





tr.E Nature and power of signs, both in speakino and in think 


IkpoRE quitting the subject of perspicuity, it will not be 
amiss to inquire into the cause of this strange phenomenon ; 
that even a man of discernment should write without mean- 
ing, and not be sensible that he hath no meaning ; and that 
judicious people should read what hath been written in this 
way, and not discover ihe defect. Both are surprising, but 
the first much more than the last. A certain remissness will 
at times seize the most attentive reader, whereas an author 
of discernment is supposed to have carefully digested all that 
he writes. It is reported of Lopez de Vega, a famous Span- 
isli poet, that the Bishop of Beller, being in Spain, asked him 
to explain one of his sonnets, which he said he had often 
read, but never understood. Lopez took up the sonnet, and 
after reading it several times, frankly acknowledged that he 
did not understand it himself; a discovery which the poet 
probably never made before. 

But though the general fact hath frequently been observed, 
I do not find that any attempt hath been yet made to account 
for it. Berkeley, indeed, in his Principles of Human Knowl- 
edge, hath suggested a theory concerning language, though 
not with tins view, whicli, if well founded, will go far to re- 
move the principal difficulty : " It is a received opinion," says 
that author, " that language has no other end but the com- 
municating our ideas, and that every significant name stands 
for an idea. This being so, and it being withal certain that 
names, which yet are not thought altogether insignificant, 
do not always mark out particular conceivable ideas, it is 
straightway concluded that the}^ stand for abstract notions. 
That there are many names in use among speculative men 
which do not always suggest to others determinate particu- 
lar ideas, is whut nobody will deny. And a little attention 
will discover, that it is not necessary (even in the strictest 
.•easonings) significant names whicli stand for ideas should, 
every time mey are used, excite in the understanding the 
ideas they are made to stand for. In reading and discoursing, 
names being for the most part used as letters are in algebra, 
in which, though a particular quantity be marked by each let- 
ter, yet to proceed right, it is not requisite that in every step 
each letter suggest to your thoughts that particular quantity 


it was appointed to stand for."* The same principles have 
been adopted by the author of a Treatise of Human Nature, 
who, speaking of abstract ideas, has the following words : " J 
believe every one who examines the situation of his mind in 
reasoning will agree with me, that v^e do not annex distinct 
and complete ideas to every term we make use of, and that, 
i'l talking oi government, church, negotialion, conquest, we sel- 
dom spread out in our minds all the simple ideas of which 
these complex ones are composed. 'Tis, however, observa- 
ble, that, notwithstanding this imperfection, we may avoid 
talking nonsense on these subjects, and may perceive any re- 
pugnance among the ideas as well as if we had a full com- 
prehension of them. Thus if, instead of saying that in ivar 
the weaker have always recourse to negotiation, we should say 
that they have always recourse to conquest, the custom which 
we have acquired of attributing certain relations to ideas stilt 
follows the words, and makes us immediately perceive the 
absurdity of that proposition."! Some excellent observa- 
tions to the same purpose have also been made by the ele 
gant Inquirer into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and 
Beautiful. J 

Now that the notions on this subject maintained by these 
ingenious writers, however strange they may appear upon a 
superficial view, are well founded, is at least presumable 
from this consideration ; that if, agreeably to the common 
hypothesis, we could understand nothing that is said but by 
actually comparing in our minds all the ideas signified, it 
would be impossible that nonsense should ever escape undis- 
covered, at least that we should so far impose upon ourselves 
as to think we understand what in reality is not to be under- 
stood. We should, in that case, find ourselves in the same 
situation, when an unmeaning sentence is introduced into ;e 
discourse, wherein we find ourselves when a sentence is quo- 
ted in a language of which we are entirely ignorant : we are 
never in the smallest danger of imagining that we apprehend 
the meaning of the quotation. 

But, though a very curious fact halh been taken notice oJ 
by those expert metaphysicians, and such a fact as will per- 
haps account for the deception we are now considering, yet 
the fact itself, in my apprehension, hath not been sufficiently 
accounted for. That mere sounds, which are used only as 
signs, and have no natural connexion witli the things where- 
of they are signs, should convey knowledge to the mind, even 
when they excite no idea of the things signified, must appear 
at first extremely mysterious. It is, therefore, worth while 
to consider the matter more closely ; and in order to this, it 
will be proper to attend a little to the three following con. 

* Inlniil., seel, xix + Vol i . t toll i., part i., sect. vii. t Part v 


nexions : first, that which subsisteth among things ; second 
ly, that which subsisteth between words and things ; thirdly, 
that which subsisteth among words, or the different terms 
used in the same language. 

As to the first of lliese connexions, namely, tliat which sub- 
sisteth among things, it is evident that this is original and 
natural. There is a variety of relations to be found in things 
by Mhich they are connected. Such are, among several oth- 
ers, resemblance, identity,* equality, contrariety, cause and 
effect, concomitancy. vicir.ity in time or place. These we 
becoine acquainted with by experience ; and they prove, by 
means of association, the source of various combinations of 
ideas and abstractions, as they are commonly denominated 
Hence mixed modes and distinctions into genera and species, 
of the orign of which I have had occasion to speak already.f 

As to the second connexion, or that which subsisteth be- 
tween words and things, it is obvious, as hath been hinted 
formerly, that this is not a natural and necessary, but an ar- 
lificial and arbitrary connexion. Nevertheless, though this 
connexion hath not its foundation in the nature of things, but 
in the inventions of men, its effect upon the mind is much 
the same ; for, having often had occasion to observe partic- 
ular words used as signs of particular things, we hence con- 
tract a habit of associating the sign with the thing signified, 
insomuch that either being presented to the mind frequently 
introduces or occasions the apprehension of the other. Cus 
torn, in this instance, operates precisely in the same mannei 
as in the formation of experience formerly explained. Thus, 
certain sounds, atid the ideas of things not naturally related 
to them, come to be as strongly linked in our conceptions as 
the ideas of things naturally related to one another. 

As to the third connexion, or that which subsisteth among 
words, I would not be understood to mean any connexion 
among the words considered as sounds, such as that which 
results from resemblance in pronunciation, equality in the 
number of syllables, sameness of measure or cadence; I 
mean solely that connexion or relation which comes grad- 
ually to subsist among the different words of a language, in 
«.hc minds of those who speak it, and which is merely conse- 
quent on this, that those words are employed as signs of 
connected or related things. It is an axiom in geometry, 
that things equal to the same thing are equal to one anoth- 

♦ It may be thought improper to mention identity as a relation by which 
diffeient things are connected ; but it must be observed, that I only mean so 
far different as to constitute distinct objects to the mind. Thus the con- 
eideralion of the same person, when a child and when a man, is the con 
■ideration of dilferent objects, between which there subsists the relation . 

t Book i., chap, v., sect, ii., part ii. On the Formation of rxpcrience 


er. It may, in like manner, be admitted as an axiom in 
ps3fchology, that ideas associated by the same idea will as- 
sociate one another. Hence it will happen, that if from ex- 
periencing the connexion of two things, there results, as in- 
fallibly thtre will result, an association between the ideas oi 
notions annexed to them, as each idea will moreover be as- 
sociated by its sign, there will likewise be an association be- 
tween the ideas of the signs. Hence the sounds considered 
as signs will be conceived to have a connexion analogous to 
that which subsisteth among the things signified ; I say, the 
sounds considered as signs ; for this way of considering them 
constantly attends us in speaking, writing, hearing, and read- 
ing. When we purposely abstract from it, and regard them 
merely as sounds, we are instantly sensible that they are 
quite unconnnected, and have no other relation than what 
ariseth from similitude of tone or accent. But to consider 
them in this manner commonly results from previous design 
and requires a kind of effort which is not exerted in the or- 
dinary use of speech. In ordinary use they are regarded 
solely as signs, or, rather, they are confounded with the 
things they signify ; the consequence of which is, that in the 
manner just now explained, we come insensibly to conceive 
a connexion among them of a very different sort from that 
of which sounds are naturally susceptible. 

Nov/ this conception, habit, or tendency of the mind, call 
It which you please, is considerably strengthened both by the 
frequent use of language and by the structure of it. It is 
strengthened by the frequent use of language. Language is 
the sole channel through which we communicate our knowl- 
edge and discoveries to others, and through which the knowl- 
edge and discoveries of others are communicated to us. By 
reiterated recourse to this medium, it necessarily happens, 
that when things are related to each other, the words signi- 
fying those things are more commonly brought together in 
discourse. Hence the words and names themselves, by cus- 
tomary vicinity, contract in the fancy a relation additional to 
that which they derive purely from being the symbols of re- 
lated things. Farther, this tendency is strengthened by the 
structure of language. All languages whatever, even the 
most barbarous, as far as hath yet appeared, are of a regular 
and analogical make. The consequence is, that similar rela- 
tions in things will be expressed similarly ; that is, by simi- 
lar inflections, derivations, compositions, arrangement of 
words, or juxtaposition of particles, according to the genus 
or grammatical form of the particular tongue. Now as, by 
the habitual use of a language (even though it were quite ir- 
regular), the signs would insensibly become connected in the 
imagination, wherever the things signifipd are connected iu 

tuis, so, by the regular structure of a. kaiigfuage, thi" roh 
A A -2 


nexion among the signs is conceived as analogous to that 
which subsisteth among their archetypes. From these prin- 
ciples we may be enabled both to understand the meaning 
And to perceive the justness of what is affirmed in the end 
of the preceding quotation : " The custom which we have ac- 
quired of attributing certain relations to ideas still follows the 
words, and makes us immediately perceive the absurdity of 
that proposition." Immediately, that is, even before we have 
leisure to give that attention to the signs which is necessary 
in order to form a just conception of the things signified. In 
confirmation of this doctrine it may be observed, that we 
really think by signs as well as speak by them. 

I have hitherto, in conformity to what is now become a 
general and inveterate custom, and in order to avoid tiresome 
circumlocutions, used the terms sign and idea as exactly cor 
relative. This, I am sensible, is not done with strict propri 
ety. All words are signs, but that the signification cannot al- 
ways be represented by an idea, will, I apprehend, be abun- 
dantly evident from the observations following. All the 
truths which constitute science, which give exercise to rea- 
son, and are discovered by philosophy, are general : all our 
ideas, in the strictest sense of the word, are particular. All 
the particular truths about which wc are conversant are prop- 
erly historical, and compose the furniture of memory. Nor 
do I include under the term historical the truths which belong 
to natural history, for even these too are general. Now be- 
yond particular truths or individual facts, first perceived and 
ilien remembered, we should never be able to proceed one 
single step in thinking, any more than in conversing, without 
ihe use of signs. 

When it is affirmed that the whole is equal to all its parts, 
there cannot be an affirmation which is more perfectly intel- 
ligible, or which commands a fuller assent. If, in order to 
comprehend this, I recur to ideas, all that I can do is to form 
a notion of some individual whole, divided into a certain 
number of parts, of which it is constituted, suppose of the 
year divided into the four seasons. Now all that I can be 
said to discern here is the relation of equality between this 
particular whole and its component parts. If I recur to 
another example, I only perceive another particular truth. 
The same holds of a third and of a fourth. But so far am I, 
•after the perception of ten thousand particular similar in- 
stances, from the discovery of the universal truth, that if the 
mind had not the power of considering things as signs, or 
particular ideas as representing an infinity of others, resem- 
bling in one circumstance, though totally dissimilar in every 
other, I could not so much as conceive the meaning of a uni« 
vcrsal truth. Hrnce it i.s that some ideas, to adopt the ex* 


pression of (he author above quote d, arc particular m their 
nature, but general in their 7'epresentation. 

There is, however, it must be acknowledged, a difficulty in 
explaining this power the mind hath of considering ideas, 
not in their private, but, as it were, in their representative 
capacity ; which, on that author's system who divides all the 
objects of thought into impressions and ideas, v/ill be found 
altogether insurmountable. It was to avoid this difficulty 
that philosophers at first recurred, as is sometimes the case, 
to a still greater, or, rather, to a downright absurdity, the doc- 
trine of abstract ideas. I mean only that doctrine as it hath 
been frequently explained ; for if any one is pleased to call 
that faculty by which a particular idea is regarded as repre- 
senting a whole order by the name abstraction, I have no ob 
jection to the term ; nay. more, I think it sufficiently expres- 
sive of the sense ; wliile certain qualities of the individual 
remain unnoticed, and are therefore abstracted from, those 
qualities only which it hatii in common with the order en- 
gross the mind's attention. But this is not what those wri- 
ters seem to mean who philosophize upon abstract ideas, as 
is evident from their own explications. 

The patrons of this theory maintain, or, at least, express 
themselves as if they maintained, that the mind is endowed 
with a power of forming ideas or images within itself, that 
are possessed not only of incongruous, but of inconsistent 
qualities — of a triangle, for example, that is of all possible 
dimensions and proportions, both in sides and angles, at once 
right-angled, acute-angled, and obtuse-angled, equilateral, 
equicural, and scalenum. One would have thought that the 
bare mention of this hypothesis would have been equivalent 
to a confutation of it, since it really confutes itself. 

Yet in this manner one no less respectable in the philo- 
*«ophic world than Mr. Locke has, on some occasions, ex- 
pressed himself.* I consider the difference, however, on this 
article between him and the two authors above mentioned, 
as more apparent than real, or (which amounts to the same 
thing) more in words than in sentiments. It is, indeed, 
scarcely possible that men of discernment should think dif- 
ferently on a subject so perfectly subjected to every one's 
own consciousness and experience. What has betrayed the 
former into such unguarded and improper expressions is 
plainly an undue, and, till then, unprecedented use of the 
word idea, which he has employed (for the sake, I suppose, of 
simplifying his system) to signify not only, as formerly, the 
traces of things retained in the memory, and the images 
formed by the fancy, but even the perceptions of the senses 
on the one hand, and the conceptions of the intellect on the 

* Essay on Huma i Understanding, b. ii., c. xi., sect, x., xi. ; b :v., c. vjl 
gect ix. 


Other, " it being that term which," in his opinion, " serves 
best to stand for whatsoever is the object of the undei^tand- 
ing when a man thinks."* Accordingly, he nowhere that ] 
remember, defines it, with some I'ogicians, " a pattern cr copy 
of a thing in the mind." Nevertheless, he has not always, in 
speaking on the subject, attended to the different acceptation 
he liad in the beginning afRxed to the word ; but, misled by 
the common definition (which regards a more limited object), 
and applying it to the term in that more extensive import 
which he had himself given it, has fallen into those incon- 
sistencies in language which have been before observed. 
Thus this great man has, in his own example, as it were, 
demonstrated how difficult it is even for the wisest to guard 
uniformly against the inconveniences arising from the am- 
biguity of words. 

But that what I have now advanced is not spoken rashly 
and that there was no material difference between his opm- 
ion and theirs on this article, is, I think, manifest from the 
following passage : " To return to general words, it is plain, 
by what has been said, that general and universal belong not 
to the real existence of things, but are the inventions and 
creatures of the understanding, made by it for its own use 
and concern only signs, whether words or ideas. Words are 
general, as has been said, when used for signs of general 
ideas, and so are applicable indifferently to many particular 
'hings ; and ideas are general when they are set up as the 
representatives of many particular things ; but universality 
belongs not to things themselves, which are all of them par 
ticular in their existence, even those ivords and ideas ivhich in 
their signification are general. When, therefore, we quit par- 
ticulars, the generals that rest are only creatures of our own 
making, their general nature being nothing but the capacity the]) 
are put into by the understandings of signifying or representing 
many particulars. For the signification they have is nothing bui 
a relation that by the mind of man is added to the?n."'\ Nothing, 
in my apprehension, can be more exactly coincident with 
Berkeley's doctrine of abstraction. Here not only words, 
but ideas, are made signs ; and a particular idea is made 
general, not by any change produced in it (for then it would 
be no longer the same idea), but " by being set up as the 
representative of many particular things." Universality, he 
observes, as it belongs not to things, belongs not even to 
" those words and ideas which are all of them particular iij 
their existence, but general in their signification." Again, 
the general nature of those ideas is " nothing but the capa- 
city they are put into by the understanding, of signifying oi 
representing many particulars;" and, if possible, still men 

• Essay on Human UnderS'tanding, b. i., c.i.. sect. vjii. 
t Ibid., b. ill., c. iii , sect. xi. 


explicitly, •' the signification they have is nothing but i. re- 
lation ;" no alteration on their essence, " that by the mind of 
man is added to them." 

Some of the greatest admirers of that eminent philosopher 
seem to have overlooked entirely the preceding account of 
his sentiments on this subject, and through I know^ not what 
passion for the paradoxical (I should rather say, the impossi 
ble and unintelligible), have shown an amazing zeal for de- 
fending the propriety of the hasty expressions which appear 
in the passages formerly referred to. Has not the mind of 
man, say they, an unlimited power in moulding and combi- 
ning its ideas ] The mind, it must be owned, hath an unlimit- 
ed power in moulding and combining its ideas. It often pro- 
duceih wonderful forms of its own, out of the materials ori- 
ginally supplied by sense ; forms, indeed, of which there is no 
exemplar to be found in nature ; centaurs, and griffons, 

" Gorgons, and hj-dras, and chimeras dire." 

But still it must not attempt absolute impossibilities, by giv- 
ing to its creature contradictory qualities. It must not at- 
tempt to conceive the same thing to be black and white at 
the same time, to be no more than three inches long, and yet 
no less than three thousand : to conceive two or more lines 
to be both equal and unequal, the same angle to be at once 
acute, obtuse, and right. These philosophers sagely remark, 
as a consequence of their doctrine, that the mind must be 
extremely slow in attaining so wonderful a talent ; whereas, 
on the contrary, nothing can be more evident than that the 
power of abstracting, as I have explained it, is, to a certain 
degree, and must be, as early as the use of speech, and is, 
consequently, discoverable even in infants. 

But if such an extraordinary faculty as they speak of were 
possible, I cannot, for my part, conceive what purpose it 
could serve. An idea hath been defined by some logicians 
the form or resemblance of a thing in the mind, and the 
whole of its power and use in thinking is supposed to arise 
from an exact conformity to its archetype. What, then, is 
the use or power of that idea, to which there neither is nor 
can be a.iy archetype in nature, which is merely a creature 
of the brain, a monster that bears not the likeness of any- 
thing in the universe ] 

In the extensive sense in which Locke, who is considered 
as the most strenuous supporter of that doctrine, uses the 
word idea, even the perceptions of the senses, as I had occa- 
sion lately to remark, are included under that term ; and if 
so, it is uncontrovertible, that a particular idea often serves 
as the sign of a whole class. Thus, in every one of Euclid's 
theorem.^*, a particular triangle, and a particular parallelogram, 
iiii',1 a piirticular circle, are employed as signs to denote all 


triangles, all parallelograms, and all circles. When a geoftl- 
etrician makes a diagram witli chalk upon a board, and from 
it demonstrates some property of a straight-lined figure, no 
spectator ever imagines that he is demonstrating a property 
of nothing else but that individual white figure of five inches 
long which is before him. Every one is satisfied that he is 
demonstrating a property of all that order, whether more or 
less extensive, of which it is both an example and a sign; all 
tlie order being understood to agree with it in certain charac 
ters, however different in other respects. Nay, what is more, 
the mind with the utmost facility extends or contracts the 
representative power of the sign, as the particular occasion 
requires. Thus the same equilateral triangle will with equal 
propriet}' serve for the demonstration not only of a property 
of all equilateral triangles, but of a property of all isoscele.s 
triangles, or even of a property of all triangles whatever. 
Nay, so perfectly is this matter understood, that if the dem- 
onstrator in any part should recur to some property, as to the 
length of a side, belonging to the particular figure he hath 
constructed, but not essential to the kind mentioned in the 
proposition, and which the particular figure is solely intended 
to represent, every intelligent observer would instantly detect 
the fallacy. So entirely, for all the purposes of science, doth 
a particular serve for a whole species or genus. Now why 
one visible individual, or, in the style of the above-mentioned 
author, why a particular idea of sight should, in our reason- 
ings, serve, without the smallest inconvenience, as a sign foi 
an infinite number, and yet one conceivable individual, or ? 
particular idea of imagination, should not be adapted to an 
swer the same end, it will, I imagine, be utterly impossibh 
to say. 

There is, however, a considerable difference in kind be- 
tween such signs as these and the words of a language. 
Among all the individuals of a species, or even of the most 
extensive genus, there is still a natural connexion, as they 
agree in the specific or generic character. But the connex- 
ion that subsisteth between words and things is, in its origin, 
arbitrary. Yet the difference in the effect is not so consid- 
erable as one would be apt to imagine. In neither case is it 
the matter, if I may be allowed the expression, but the power 
of the sign, that is regarded by the mind. We find that, even 
in demonstrative reasonings, signs of the latter kind, or msre 
symbols, may be used with as much clearness and succca as 
can be conferred by natural signs. The operations both ol 
the algebraist and of the arithmetician are strictly of the na- 
ture of demonstration. The one employs as signs the letters 
of the alphabet, the other certain numerical characters. In 
neither of these arts is it necessary to form ideas of the quan- 
tities and sums signified ; in some instances it is even impo9< 


(Jible, yet the equations and calculations resulting thence are 
not the less accurate and convincing. So much for the na- 
ture and power of artificial signs. 

Perhaps I have said too much on this subject ; for, on re- 
view of what I have written, I am even apprehensive lest 
some readers imagine that, after quoting examples of tho 
unintelligible from others, I have thought fit to produce a 
very ample specimen of my own. Every subject, it is cer- 
tain, is not equally susceptible of perspicuity ; but there is a 
material diff'erence between an obscurity which ariseth pure- 
ly from the nature of the subject, and that which is charge- 
able upon the style. Whatever regards the analysis of the 
operations of the mind, which is quicker than lightning in all 
her energies, must in a great measure be abstruse and dark. 
Let, then, the dissatisfied reader deign to bestow on the fore- 
going observations a second perusal ; and though after that 
he should be as much at a loss as before, the case may not 
be without remedy. Let him not, therefore, be discouraged 
from proceeding ; there is still a possibility that the applica- 
tion of the principles which I have been attempting to devel- 
op, will reflect some light on them ; and if not, it is but a 
few minutes thrown away, for I do not often enter on such 
profound researches. 



Now, to apply this doctrine to the use for which it was ui 
produced, let us consider how we can account by it for thes 
phenomena, that a man of sense should sometimes write non 
sense and not know it, and that a man of sense should some 
times read nonsense and imagine he understands it. 

In the preceding quotation from the Treatise on Humap 
Nature, the author observes, that " notwithstanding that we 
do not annex distinct and complete ideas to every term we 
make use of, we may avoid talking nonsense, and may per- 
ceive any repugnance among the ideas, as well as if we had 
a full comprehension of them." This remark generally holds. 
Thus, in matters that are perfectly familiar, and are level to 
an ordinary capacity, in simple narration, or in moral obser- 
vations on the occurrences of life, a man o*" common under- 
standing may be deceived by specious falsenood, but is hard- 
ly to be gulled by downright nonsense. Almost all the pos 
sible applications of the terms (in other words, all the ac 
quired relations of the signs) have become customary to him. 
The consequence is, that an unusual application of any tern» 
is instantly detected ; this detection breeds doubt and this 
doubt occasions an immediate recourse to ideas. The re- 
course of the mind, when in any degree puzzled with th'' 


Signs, to the knowledge it has of the thing signified, is natu- 
ral, and on such plain subjects perfectly easy ; and of this re- 
course, the discovery of the meaning or of the unmeaning- 
ness of what is said is the immediate effect. But in matters 
that are by no means familiar, or are treated in an uncom- 
mon manner, and in such as are of an abstruse and intricate 
nature, the case is widely different. There are particularly 
three sorts of writing wherein we are liable to be imposed on 
by words witliout meaning. 

The first is, where there is an exuberance of metaphor 
Nothing is more certain than that this trope, when temper- 
ately and appositely used, serves to add light to the expres- 
sion and energy to the sentiment. On the contrary, when 
vaguely and iiitemperately used, nothing can serve more ef- 
fectually to cloud the sense where there is sense, and, by 
cunsequence, to conceal the defect, where there is no sense 
to show ; and this is the case, not only where there is in the 
same sentence a mixture of discordant metaphors, but also 
where the metaphoric style is too long continued and too far 
pursued.* The reason is obvious. In common speech the 
words are the immediate signs of the thought. But it is not 
so here ; for when a person, instead of adopting metaphors 
that come naturally and opportunely in his way, rummages 
the whole world in quest of them, and piles them one upon 
another, when he cannot so properly be said to use metaphor 
as to talk in metaphor, or, ratlier, when from metaphor he 
runs into allegory, and thence into enigma, his words are not 
(he immediate signs of his thought ; they are, at best, but the 
signs of the signs of his thought. His writing may then be 
called what Spenser not unjustly styled his Fair)' Queen, a 
perpetual allegory or dark conceit. Most readers will account 
it much to bestow a transient glance on the literal sense which 
lies nearest, but will never think of that meaning more re- 
mote, which the figures themselves are intended to signify. 
It is no wonder, then, that this sense, for the disi.-overy of 
which it is necessary to see through a double veil, should, 
where it is, more readily escape our observation and that 
where it is wanting we should not so quickly miss it. 

There is, in respect of the two meanings, considerable va- 
riety to be found in the tropical style. In just allegory and 
eimilitude there is always a propriety, or, if you choose to 
call it, congruity, in the literal sense, as well as a distinct 
meaning or sentiment suggested, which is called the figura- 
tive sense. Examples of this are unnecessary. Again, where 
ih^ figurative sense is unexceptionable, there is sometimes 
an incongruity in the expression of the literal sense. This 

* "Ut inodicus autem ^Ique opportunus translationis usus iiiustrat ora 
tionein : ita l'ieq;ien>' et ob.'^curat et lasdio CuOiplet ; conlinuus vero in alio 
id iani et 8erus'iia> e'^t " -Quint , 1. viii , c. vi. 


IS always the case in mixed metaphor, a thing not unfrequent 
even in good writers. Thus, when Addison remarks lat 
'' there is not a single view of human nature which is not 
sufficient to extinguish the seeds of pride," he expresses a true 
sentiment somewhat incongruously ; for the terms extinguish 
and seeds, here metaphorically used, do not suit each other. 
In like manner, tliere is something incongruous in the mix- 
ture of tropes employed in the following passage from Lord 
Dolingbroke : " Nothing less than the hearts of his people will 
content a patriot prince, nor will.he think his throne establish- 
ed till it is established there.'' Yet the thought is excellcn!. 
But in neither of these examples does the incongruity of tlie 
expression hurt the perspicuity of tlie sentence. Sometimes, 
indeed, the literal meaning involves a direct absurdit)''. When 
this is the case, as in the quotation from the principles of paint- 
ing, given in the preceding chapter, it is natural for the read- 
er to suppose that there must be something under it ; for it is 
not easy to say how absurdly even just sentiments will some- 
times be expressed. But when no such hidden sense can be 
discovered, what, in the first view, conveyed to our minds a 
glaring ahsurdily, is rightly, on reflection, denominated non 
sense. We are satisfied that De Piles neither thought, nor 
wanted his readers to think, that Rubens was really the origi 
nal performer, and God the copier. This, then, was not his 
meaning. But what he actually thought, and wanted them 
to think, it is impossible to elicit from his words. His words, 
then, may justly be termed bold in respect of their literal im- 
port, but unmeaning in I'espect of the author's intention. 

It may be proper here to observe, that some are apt to con 
found the terms absurdity and nonsense as synonymous, which 
they manifestly are not. An absurdity, in the strictest ac- 
ceptation, is a proposition either intuitively or demonstrative- 
ly false. Of this kind are these: "Three and two make 
seven" — "All the angles of a triangle are greater than two 
right angles." That the former is false we know by intu- 
ition ; that the latter is so, we are able to demonstrate. But 
the term is farther extended to denote a notorious falsehood. 
If one should affirm that at the vernal equinox " the sun risea 
in the north and sets in the south," we should not hesitate to 
say that he advances an absurdity ; but still what he affirms 
has a meaning, insomuch that, on hearing the sentence, we 
pronounce its falsity. Now nonsense is that whereof we can- 
not say either that it is true or that it is false. Thus, when 
the Teutonic theosopher enounces that " all the voices of the 
celestial joyfulness qualify, commix, and harmonize in the 
fire which was from eternity in the good quality," I should 
think it equally impertinent to aver tlie falsity as the truth oi 
this enunciation; for, though the words grammatically form 
•T sentence, thev exhibit to the understanding no judgment, 

K R 


and, consequently, admit neither assent nor disse 1 1. In lh« 
former instances I say the meaning, or what they affii-ni, ia 
absurd ; in the last instance I say there is no meaning, and 
therefore, properly, nothing is affirmed. In popular lan- 
guage, I own, the terms absurdity and nonsense are not so 
accurately distinguished. Absurd positions are sometimes 
called nonsensical. It is not common, on the other hand, to 
say of downriglit nonsense that it comprises an absnrdil)'. 

Farther, in the literal sense there may be nothing unsuita- 
ble, and yet the reader may be at a loss to find a figurative 
meaning to which his expressions can with justice be applied. 
Writers immoderately attached to the florid or highly-figured 
diction are often misled by a desire of flourishing on the sev- 
eral attributes of a metaphor which they have pompously 
ushered into the discourse, without taking the trouble to ex- 
amine whether there be any qualities in the subject to which 
these attributes can with justice and perspicuity be applied. 
In one of the examples of the unintelligible above cited 
the author having once determined to represent the human 
mind under the metaphor of a country, hath revolved in his 
thoughts the various objects which might be found in a coun- 
try, but hath never dreamed of considering whether there be 
any things in the mind properly analogous to tiiese. Hence 
the strange parade he makes with regions and recesses, hollow 
caverns and vrirafe seals, irastes and icildcrnesscs, fruitful and 
cultivated tracti ; words wliich, though they have a precise 
meaning as applied to country, have no definite signification 
as applied to mind. With equal propriety he might have in- 
troduced all the varie»A' which Satan discovered in the king- 
dom of darkness, 

" Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death ;"* 
or given us, with Othello, 

" All his travel's history. 
Wherein, belike, of antres vast and desarts idle. 
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven, 
'T had been his bent to speak. "t 

So much for the immoderate use of metaphor, which, by-the- 
way, is the principal source of all the nonsense of orators 
and j)oets. 

The second species of writing wherein we arc liable to be 
imposed on by words without meaning, ^s that wherein the 
terms most frequently occurring denote thi; gs w"hicii are of 
a complicated nature, and to which the mind is not sufficient- 
'y familiarized. Many of those notions which are called by 
philosophers mixed modes, come under this denomination. 
Of these the instances are numberless in every tongue ; such 
^s government, church, state, constitution, polity, power, cor.xmerce 

* Paradise Lost T Shakspc \rc 


^gislature, jurisdiction, proportion, symmetry s elegance. It will 
considerably increase the danger of our being deceived b)^ an 
unmeaning use of such terms, if they are, besides (as very 
often they are), of so indeterminate, and, consequently, 
equivocal significations, that a writer, unobserved either by 
himself or by his reader, may slide from one sense of the 
term to another, till by degrees he fall into such applications 
of it as will make no sense at all. It deserves our notice, 
also, that we are in much greater danger of terminating in 
this, if the different meanings of the same word have some 
affinity to one another, than if they have none. In the latter 
case, when there is no affinity, the transition from one mean- 
ing to another is taking a very wide step, and what few wri- 
ters are in any danger of; it is, besides, what will not so 
readily escape tl:e observation of the reader. So much for 
the second cause of deception, which is the chief source of 
all the nonsense of writers on politics and criticism. 

The tliird and last, and, 1 may add, the principal species of 
composition, wherein we are exposed to this illusion by the 
abuse of words, is that in which the terms employed an 
very abstract, and, consequently, of very extensive significa- 
tion. It is an observation that plainly ariseth from the na- 
ture and structure of language, and may be deduced as a co- 
rollary from what hath been said of the use of artificial signs 
that the more general any name is, as it comprehends the 
more individuals under it, and consequently requires the more 
extensive knowledge in the mind that would rightly appre- 
hend it, the more it must have of indistinctness and obscuri 
ty. Thus the word lion is more distinctly apprehended by 
the mind than the word beast, beast than animal, animal than 
being. But there is, in what are called abst.act subjects, a 
still greater fund of obscurity than that arising from the fre- 
quent mention of the most general terms. Names must be 
assigned to those qualities, considered abstractly, which 
never subsist independently or by themselves, but which 
constitute the generic characters and the specific diflferencea 
of things ; and this leads to a manner which is in many in- 
stances remote from the common use of speech, and there 
fore must be of more difficult conception. The qualities 
thus considered as in a state of separation from the subjects 
to which they belong, have been not unfitly compared by a 
famous wit of the last century to disimbodied spirits : 

" He could reduce all things to acts, 
And knew their natures and abstracts ; 
Where entity and quiddity 
The ghosts of defunct bodies fly."* 

A.S the names of the departed heroes which ^neas saw in 
the infernal regions were so constituted as effectually to eludo 

•♦ ifudibras, b. i., c. i 


the embrace of every living wight, in like manner, the ab* 
stract qualities are so subtile as often to elude the apprehen- 
sion of the most attentive mind. They have, I may say, too 
much volatility to be arrested, were it but for a moment. 

" The flitting shadow slips away, 
Like winds or empty dreams that fly the day."* — Dryden. 

[t is no wonder, then, that a misapplication of such words, 
whether general or abstract, should frequently escape our no- 
tice. The more general any word is in its signification, it is 
the more liable to be abused by an improper or unmeaning 
application. A foreigner will escape discovery in a crowd, 
who would instantly be distinguished in a select company. 
A very general term is applicable alike to a multitude of dif- 
ferent individuals, a particular term is applicable but to a few. 
When the rightful applications of a word are extremely nu- 
merous, they cannot all be so strongly fixed bj' habit, but 
that, for greater security, we must perpetually recur in our 
minds from the sign to the notion we have of the thing sig- 
nified ; and for the reason afore mentioned, it is in such in- 
stances difficult precisely to ascertain this notion. Thus the 
latitude of a word, though different from its ambiguity, hath 
often a similar effect. 

Farther, it is a certain fact, that when we are much accus- 
tomed to particular terms, we can scarcely avoid fancying 
that we understand them, whether they have a meaning or 
not. The reason of this apprehension might easily be de- 
duced from what hath been already said of the nature of 
signs. Let it suffice at present to observe the fact. Now, 
on ordinary subjects, if we adopt such a wrong opinion, we 
may easily be undeceived. The reason is, that on such sub- 
jects the recourse from the sign to the thing signified is easy. 
For the opposite reason, if we are in such an error on ab- 
stract subjects, it is next to impossible that ever we should 
be undeceived. Hence it is, if without offence 1 may be in- 
dulged the observation, that in some popular systems of re- 
ligion, the zeal of the people is principally exerted in support 
of certain favourite phrases, and a kind of technical and id- 
lomatical dialect to which their ears have been long inured, 
and which they consequently imagine they understand, but 
in which often there is notning to be understood. 

From such causes it hath arisen, that ever since the earli- 
est days of philosophy, abstract subjects have been the prin- 
cipal province of altercation and logomachy ; to the support 
of which, how far the artificial dialect of the schoolmen, nay, 
the analytics and the metaphysics, the categories and the 
topics of the justly admired Stagy rite, have contributed, we 

* Ter comjirensa maniis etl'ugil imago. 

Par levibus veiitis, voi'i«^nque similhma somno." — ^nuid, 1. 6. 


have considered already.* Indeed, at length, dispul&ticn in 
the schools came to be so much a mechanical exercise, that 
if once a man had learned his logic, and had thereby come 
to understand t!ie use of his weapons, and had gotten the 
knack of wielding them, he was qualified, without any othei 
kind of knowledge, to defend any position whatsoever, ho\» 
contradictory soever to conmion sense, and to the clearest 
discoveries of reason and experience. This art, it must be 
owned, observed a wonderful impartiality in regard to truth 
and error, or, rather, the most absolute indifference to both. 
If it was oftener emploj^ed in defence of error, that is not to 
be wondered at ; for the way of truth is one, the ways of er- 
ror are infinite. One qualified in the manner above mention- 
ed could as successfully dispute on a subject of which he was 
totally ignorant, as on one with which he was perfectly ac- 
quainted. Success, indeed, tended then no more to decide 
the question, than a man's killing his antagonist in a duel 
serves now to satisfy any person of sense that the victor had 
right on his side, and that the vanquished was in the wrong. 
Such an art as this could at bottom be no other than a mere 
playing with words, used indeed grammatically, and accord- 
ing to certain rules established in the schools, but quite in- 
significant, and, therefore, incapable of conveying knowledge. 
" Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy." 
This logic, between two and three centuries ago, received 
a considerable improvement from one Raimond Lully, a na- 
tive of Majorca, who, by the ingenious contrivance of a few 
concentric movable circles, on the borders of some of which 
rt'ere inscribed the subjects, of others the predicaments, and 
of others the forms of questions, he not only superseded the 
little in point of invention which the scholastic logic had till 
then required, but much accelerated the operations of the ar 
tist. All was done by manual labour. All the circles, ex- 
cept the outmost, which was immovable, were turned upon 
the common centre, one after another. In this manner the 
disposition of subjects, predicaments, and questions was per- 
petually varied. All the proper questions on every subject 
were suggested, and pertinent answers supplied. In the same 
way did the working of the engine discover and apply the 
several topics of argument that might be used in support of 
any question. On this rare device one Athanasius Kircher 
made great improvements in the last century. He boasted 
that by means of a coffer of arts, divided into a number of 
small receptacles, entirely of his own contriving, a thousand 
prodigies might be performed, which either could not be ef- 
fected at all by LuUy's magical circles, or, at least, n H so 

* Book i., chap, vi. 


Ncithing can more fully prove that the fruit of all such con 
trivances was mere words without knowledge, an empty show 
of science without the reality, than the ostentatious and ab- 
surd way in which the inventors and their votaries talk of 
these inventions. They would have us believe that in these 
is contained a complete encyclopedia, that here we may dis- 
cover all the arts and sciences as in their source, that hence 
all of them may be deduced u priori, as from their principles. 
Accordingly, they treat all those as no better than quacks 
and empirics who have recourse to so homely a tutoress as 

The consideration of their pretensions hath indeed satisfied 
me that the ridicule thrown on projectors of this kind, in the 
account given by Swift* of a professor in the academy of 
Logado, is not excessive, as I once thought it. The boasts 
of the academist, on the prodigies performed by his frame, 
are far less extravagant than those of the above-mentioned 
artists, which in truth they very much resemble. f 

So much for the tliird and last cause of illusion that was 
taken notice of, arising from the abuse of very general and 
abstract terms, which is the principal source of all the non- 
.sense that hath been vented by metaphysicians, mystagogues 
and theologians. 

f Gulliver's Travels, part iii. 

t At what an amazing pitch of perfection doth Knitlelins, a great admires 
both of Lully and Kircher, suppose that the adepts in this literary handi 
craft may arrive. The assiduous and careful practice will at length, ac 
cording to him, (uily instruct us : " Quomododequacunque re propositasta 
tim librum concipere, et in capita dividere, de quacunque re extempore dis 
serere, argumentari, de quocuiique Ihemale orationem formare, orationem 
mentalem per horam dies et septimanas protrahere, rem quamcunque de 
scribere, per apologos et fabulas proponere, eml)lemata et hieroglyphica, in 
venire, de quacunque re historias expedite scribere, r.dversaria de quacun 
que re facere. de quacunque materia consilia dare, onmes arguilas ad unam 
regulain reducere. assumptum thema in infmitum mulliplicare, e.\ falso rem 
liemonstrare, quidlibet i)er quidlibet probare, possimus." Quirinus Kuhl- 
manus, another philosopher of the last century, in a letter to Kircher, hath 
said, with much good sense, concerning his coffer, " Lusus est ingeniosus, 
ingeniose Kirchere, non methodus, prima fronie aliquid promittens, in re- 
cessu nihil solvens. Sine cista enim puer nihil potest responderc, et in 
cista nihil praeler verba habet ; tot profert quot audit, sine inlellectu. ad in 
star psittaci et de illo jure dicitur quod Lacon de philomela, Vvx est, prce 
tcreaque 7iihil." Could anybody imagine that one who thought so justly of 
Kirchei's device was himself the author of another of the same kind ? He 
had, it seems, contrived a scientific machine that moved by wheels, with 
the conception of which he jn-etended to have been inspired by Heaven, but, 
infortunalely. he did not live to publish it. His only view, therefore, in 
(he WGr<!s above quoted, was to depreciate Kircher's engine, that he might 
the more effectually recommend his own. " Multa passim," says Morhof!" 
concerning hun (Pnlyhisior, vol. i., lib. ii., cap. v.), •' de rolls suis combina 
toriis jactat, quibus ordinatis unus homo millies mille, imo millies millies 
mille scribas vincat; qui lamen primarius rotarum scopus non est, sed gran- 
dier longe restat : nempe notitia providentiae aeternae, orbisque terrarum 
motus." And again: "Nee uHus hominum tarn insulso 'udicio praedil.pi 






Having fully considered the nature of perspicuity, and the 
various ways in which the laws relating to it may be trans- 
gressed, I shall now inquire whether, to be able to transgress 
with dexterity in any of those ways, by speaking obscurely, 
ambiguously, or unintelligibly, be not as essential to the per- 
fection of eloquence as to be able to speak perspicuously. 

Eloquence, it may be said, hath been defined to be that art 
or talent whereby the discourse is adapted to produce the ef- 
fect which the speaker intends it should produce in the hear- 
er.* May not, then, obscurity, on some occasions, be as 
conducive to the effect intended, as perspicuity is on other 
occasions ] If the latter is necessary in order to inform, is 
not the former necessary in order to deceive ] If perspicu- 

est, qui liac institutione libros doctos, novos, utiles, omni rerum scientia 
plenos, levissima opera edere non potest." How much more modest is the 
professor of Logado. " He flatters himself, indeed, that a more noble, ex- 
alted thought than his never sprang in any other man's head," but doth not 
lay claim to inspiration. " Everyone knows," he adds, " how laborious the 
usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences ; whereas, by his contri- 
vance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little 
bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathe- 
matics, and theology" (no mention of history), •' wiihoul the least assistance 
fiom genius and study." He is still modest enough to require time and 
some corporeal exercise in order to the composing of a treatise ; but those 
artists propose to bring a proficient " stattm librum concipere" instantly, 
" levissima opera," with little or no pains. I shall conclude with laying 
before the reader the opinion of Lord Verulam concerning the LuUian art — 
an opinion that may, with equal justice, be applied to the devices of all 
Lully's followers and imitators: "Neque tameii illud praetermittendiim, 
quod nonnuUi viri magis tumidi quam docti insudarunt circa methodum 
quandam, legilimoe methodi nomine baud dignam, cum potius sit methodus 
imposturae, quae tamen quibusdam ardelionibus acceptissima procul dubio 
fuerit. Hsc methodus ita scientiae alicujus guttulas aspergit, ut qiiis scio- 
lus specie nonnuUa eruditionis ad ostentationem possit abuti. 'I'alis fuit 
ais Lulli, talis typocosmia a nonnuUis exarala; qu® nihil aiiud fuerunt, 
quam vocabulorun. artis cujusque massa et acervus: ad hoc, ut qui voces 
artis haberant in proinptu, eiiain artes ipsas perdidicesse existimentur 
Hiigus generis collectanea officinam referunt veterameutariam. ubi prassig' 
mina multa reperiuntur, sed nihil quod alicujus sit pretii." — De Augm. 
Scien., lib. vi. cap ii. I shall only observe, that when he calls this art a 
method of in. posture, he appears to mean that it puts an imposition upon 
ihe mind, not so much by infusing error instead of truth, as by amusing us 
vi'.h mere words instead of useful knowletge. * Book i., chap i 


ity bo expedient in convincing us of truth and persuading ua 
to do right, is not its contrary, obscurity, expedient in effect- 
ipgr the contrary ; that is, in convincing us of wliat is false, 
and in persuading us to do wrong] And may not either ol 
these effects be the aim of the speaker 1 

This way of arguing is far more plausible than just. To 
be obscure, or even unintelligible, may, I acknowledge, in 
some cases, contribute to the design of the orator, yet it doth 
not follow that obscurity is as essential to eloquence as the 
opposite quality. It is the design of the medical art to give 
health and ease to the patient, not pain and sickness ; and 
tiiat the latter are sometimes the foreseen effects of the med 
icines employed, doth not invalidate the general truth. What- 
ever be the real intention of a speaker or writer, whether to 
satisfy our reason of what is true or of what is untrue, whether 
to incline our will to what is right or to what is wrong, still 
he must propose to effect his design by informing our under- 
standing; nay, more, without conveying to our minds some 
information, he might as well attempt to achieve his purpose 
by addressing us in an unknown tongue. Generally, tliere- 
fore, this quality of style, perspicuity, is as requisite in se- 
ducing to evil as in exciting to good ; in defendmg error as 
in supporting truth. 

I am sensible that this position must appear to many no 
other than a paradox. What ! say they, is it not as natural 
to vice and falsehood to skulk in darkness, as it is to truth 
and virtue to appear in light ] Doubtless it is in some sense, 
but in such a sense as is not in the least repugnant to the doc- 
trine here advanced. That therefore we may be satisfied ol 
the justness of this theory, it will be necessary to consider a 
little farther the nature both of persuasion and of conviction. 

With regard to the former, it is evident that the principal 
scope for employing persuasion is when the mind balances, 
or may be supposed to balance, in determining what choice 
to make in respect of conduct, whether to do this or to do that, 
or at least whether to do or to forbear. And it is equally ev- 
ident that the mind would never balance a moment in choos- 
ing unless there were motives to influence it on each of the 
opposite sides. In favour of one side, perhaps, is the love ol 
glory, in favour of the other the love of life. Now, which 
ever side the orator espouses, there are two things that must 
carefully be studied by him, as was observed on a formei 
occasion ;* the first is, to excite in h:s hearers that desire oi 
passion which favours his designs ; the second is, to satisfy 
their judgments that there is a connexion between the con 
duct to which he would persuade them, and the gratificatiof 
of the desire or passion which he excites. The first is el 

* Hook i., chap, ■vii., sect, iv See the analysis o' persuasion 

THE PHlLOSOftli or UHETORIt:. 291 

lected I)y comnuinicating naturiil and lively ideas of the ob- 
ject ; the second by arguments from experience, analogy, 
testimony, or the plurality of chances. To the communica- 
tion of natvn-al and vivid ideas, the pathetic circumstanf-ea 
formerly enumerated* are particularly conductive. Now to 
the efficacious display of those circumstances, nothing < an 
be more unfriendly than obscurity, whose direct tendencj is 
to confound our ideas, or, rather, to blot them altogethtr; 
and as to the second requisite, the argumentative part, that 
can never require obscurity which doth not require even a 
deviation from truth. It may be as true, and, tiierefore, as 
demonstrable, that my acting in one way will promote my 
safety, or what I regard as my interest, as that my acting in 
the contrary way will raise my fame. And even when an 
orator is under a necessity of replying to what hath been 
advanced by an antagonist, in order to weaken the impres- 
sion he hath made, or to lull the passion he hath roused, it is 
not often that he is obliged to avail himself of any false or 
sophistical reasoning, which alone can render obscurity use- 
ful. Commonly, on the contrary, he hath only to avail him- 
self of an artful exhibition of every circumstance of the case 
that can in any way contribute to invalidate or to subvert his 
adversary's plea, and, consequently, to support his own. Now 
it is a certain fact, that in almost all complicated cases, real 
circumstances will be found in favour of each side of the 
question. Whatever side, therefore, the orator supports, it is 
liis business, in the first place, to select those circumstances 
that are favourable to his own plea, or which excite the pas- 
sion that is directly instrumental in promoting his end ; sec- 
ondly, to select those circumstances that are unfavourable 
to the plea of his antagonist, and to add to all these such 
clearness and energy by his eloquence as will effectually fix 
the attention of the hearers upon them, and thereby withdraw 
their regards from those circumstances, equally real, which 
favour the other side. In short, it is the business of the two 
antagonists to give different or even opposite directions to 
the attention of the hearers ; but then it is alike the interest 
of each to set thosb particular circumstances, to which he 
would attract their notice, in as clear a light as possible ; and 
it is only by acting thus that he can hope to effectuate his 

Perhaps it will be urged, that though, where the end is 
persuasion, there doth not seem to be an absolute necessity 
for sophistry and obscurity on either side, as there is not on 
either side an absolute necessity for supporting falsehood, 
the case is certainly different when the end is to convince 

* Book i., chap, vii., sect. v. The e.tplication and use of those circunr 


the understanding. In this case, \\halever is spoken on one 
side of the question, as it is spoken in support of error, must 
he sophistical ; and sopliistry seems to require a portion of 
obscurity, to serve her as a veil, that she may escape dis- 
covery. Even here, however, the ease is not so plain as at 
first it may be thought. Sophistry (which hath sometimes 
been successfully used in support of truth) is not always ne- 
cessary for the support of error. Error may be supported, 
and hath been often strenuously supported, by very cogent 
arguments and just reasoning. 

But as this position will probably appear to many very ex- 
traordinary, if not irrational, it will be necessary to examine 
the matter more minutely. It is true, indeed, that in sub- 
jects susceptible of demonstrative proof, error cannot be de- 
fended but by sophistry ; and sophistry, to prevent detection^ 
must shelter herself in obscurity. This results from the na- 
ture of scientific evidence, as formerly explained.* This 
kind of evidence is solely conversant about the invariable re- 
lations of number and extension, which relations it evolves 
by a simple cham of axioms. An assertion, therefore, that 
is contrary to truth in these matters, is also absurd and incon- 
ceivable ; nor is there any scope here for contrariety of 
proofs. Accordingly, debate and argumentation have no 
footing here. The case is far otherwise with moral evidence, 
which is of a complex nature, which admits degrees, which 
is almost always combated by opposite proofs, and tliese, 
though perhaps lower in degree, as truly of the nature of proof 
and evidence as those wherebj' they are opposed. The proba- 
bility, on the whole, as was shown already,! lies in the pro- 
portion which the contrary proofs, upon comparison, bear to 
one another; a proportion which, in complicated cases, it is 
often difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to ascertain. 
The speakers, therefore, on the opposite sides have each real 
evidence to insist on ; and there is here the same scope as 
in persuasory discourses, for all the arts that can both rivet 
the hearer's attention on the circumstances of the proof fa- 
vourable to the speaker's design, and divert his attention from 
the contrary circumstances. Nor is there, in (\rdinary cases, 
that is, in all cases really dubious and disputalle, any neces- 
sity, on either side, for what is properly called sophistry. 

The natural place for sophistry is when a speaker finds 
hnnself obliged to attempt the refutation of arguments tha 
are both clear and convincing. For an answerer to overlook 
Fuch arguments altogether might be dangerous, and to treat 
them in such a manner as to elude their force requires the 
most exquisite address. A little sophistry here will, no doubt, 
be thought necessary by one with whom victory hath more 

* IJook i., chap, v., sect. ii. t Book i.. chap, v , .^ect. ii 


jiiurms than tnttn ; and sophistry, as was hinted above, al- 
waj's implies obscurity ; for that a sophism should be niis- 
lakeu for an argument, can be imputed only to this, that it is 
not rightly understood. 

As I'rom what hath been said we may learn to distinguish 
the few cases wherein a violation of the laws of perspicuity 
may be pertinent to the purpose of the orator, I shall next in- 
quire what kind of violation is in such cases best fitted for an- 
swering his design. It is evident it cannot be the first, which 
for distinction's sake was denominated by the general name 
Obscurity. When a hearer not only doth not understand, but 
is himself sensible that he doth not understand, what is spo- 
ken, it can produce no effect on him but weariness, suspicion, 
and disgust, which must be prejudicial to the intention. Al- 
though it is not always necessary that everything advanced 
by the speaker should convey information to the hearer, it is 
necessary that he should believe himself informed by what is 
snid ere he can be convinced or persuaded by it. For the 
like reason, it is not the second kind of transgression, or any 
discoverable ambiguity in what is spoken, that is adapted to 
the end of speaking. This fault, if discovered, though not of 
BO bad consequence as the former, tends to distract the atten- 
tion of the liearer, and thereby to weaken the impression 
which the words would otherwise have made. It remains 
lliat it is only the third and last kind above discussed, when 
what is said, though in itself unintelligible, a hearer may be 
led to imagine that he understands. When ambiguities can 
artfully be made to elude discovery and to conduce to this 
deception, they may be used with success.* Now, though 
nothing would seem to be easier than this kind of style when 
an author falls into it naiuraiiy, that is, when he deceives 
himself as well as his reader, nothing is more difficult when 
attempted of design. It is, besides, requisite, if this manner 
must be continued for any time, that it be artfully blended 
with some glimpses of meaning ; else, to persons of discern- 
ment, the charm will at last be dissolved, and the nothing- 
ness of what hath been spoken will be detected ; nay, even 
ihc attention of the unsuspecting multitude, when not reliev- 
ed by anytiiing that is level to their comprehension, will in- 
fallibly flag. The invocation in the Dunciad admirably suits 
the orator who is unhappily reduced to the necessity of ta 
king shelter in the unintelligible. 

" Of darkness visible so much be lent, 
As half to show, halt veil the deep intent." 

There s but one subject in nature (if what is unintelligible 

* Th/ii they are often successful this way hath been justly remaikeo 
by Arist )tle : " Tuv &' ovajjardiv, tui /ici" TO(ptaTt] 4^«)H)^iai ^pTjaifiot, vapa raur.u 
Yoo t-nKc-ipyti" — Pijr. y. 


can be called a subject) on which the appetite of nonsense ii 
utterly insatiable. The intelligent reader needs not be in- 
formed that I mean what is commonly termed mystical the- 
ology; a subject whose supposed sublimity serves with its 
votaries to apologize for its darkness. That here, indeed 
there may be found readers who can, not only with patience 
but with avidity ; not only through pages, but through vol- 
umes, lose themselves in wandering over a maze of words 
unenlightened by a single ray of sense, the translation of 
the works of Jacob Behmen, and our modern Hutchinsonian 
performances, are lamentable proofs. But this case is par- 

After all, we are not to imagine that the sophistical and 
unmeaning, when it may in some sense be said to be proper, 
or even necessary, are, in respect of the ascendant gained 
f)ver the mind of the hearer, ever capable of rivalling conclu 
sive arguments perspicuously expressed. The effect of the 
former is at most only to confound the judgment, and by the 
confusion it producelh, to silence contradiction ; the effect of 
the latter is fully to convince the understanding. Tlie im- 
pression made by the first can no more be compared in dis- 
tinctness and vivacity to that effected by the second, than the 
dreams of a person asleep to his perceptions when awake. 
Hence we may perceive an eminent disadvantage, which the 
advocate for error, when compelled to recur to words with- 
out meaning, must labour under. The weapons he is obliged 
to use are of such a nature that there is much greater dif- 
ficulty in managing those that must be employed in the cause 
of truth ; and when managed ever so dexterously, they can- 
not do equal execution. A still greater disadvantage the 
patron of the cause of injustice or of vice must grapple with ; 
for though he may find real motives to urge in defence of 
his plea, as wealth, perhaps, or ease, or pleasure, he hath to 
encounter or elude the moral sentiments which, of all motives 
whatever, take the strongest hold of the heart ; and if he finda 
himself under a necessity of attempting to prove that virtue 
and right are on his side, he hath his way to grope through 
a labyrinth of sophistry and nonsense. 

So much for the legitimate use of the unintelligible in or- 



But are there not some subjects, and e\en some kind of 
composition, which from their very nature demand a dash of 
obscurity ? Doth not decency often require this 1 Doth not 
delicacy require this ] And is this not even eisential to the al- 
legoric stvle, and to the enigmatic ? As to the manner whicli 


uecency sometimes requires, it will be found, on cxamii\ation, 
to stand opposed more properly to vivacity than to perspicuity 
of style, and will therefore fall to be considered afterward. 

I shall now, therefore, examine, in the first place, in what 
respect delicacy may be said to demand obscurity. Thus 
much, indeed, is evident, that delicacy often requires that 
certain sentiments be rather insinuated than expressed ; in 
other words, that they be not directly spoken, but that suf- 
ficient ground be given to infer them from whot is spoken. 
Such sentiments are, though improperly, considered as ob- 
scurely expressed for this special reason, that it is not by 
the first operation of the intellect, an apprehension of the 
meaning of what is said, but by a second operation, a reflec- 
tion on what is implied or presupposed, that they are discov- 
ered, in which double operation of the mind there is a faint 
resemblance to what happens in the case of real obscurity. 
But in the case of which 1 am treating, it is the thought more 
than the expression that serves for a veil to the sentiment 
suggested. If, therefore, in such instances there may be said 
to be obscurity, it is an obscurity which is totally distinct 
from obscurity of language. 

That this matter may be better understood, we must care- 
fully distinguish between the thought expressed and the 
thought hinted. The latter may be affirmed to be obscure 
l)ecause it is not expressed, but hinted ; whereas the former, 
with which alone perspicuity of style is concerned, must al- 
ways be expressed with clearness, otherwise the sentiment 
will never be considered as either beautiful or delicate.* I 
shall illustrate this by examples. 

No subject requires to be treated more delicately than 
praise, especially when it is given to a person present. Flat- 
tery is so nauseous to a liberal spirit, that even when praise 
is merited it is disagreeable, at least to unconcerned hearers, 
if it appear in a garb which adulation commonly assumes. 
For this reason, an encomium or compliment never succeeds 
so well as when it is indirect. It then appears to escape the 
speaker unawares, at a time that he seems to have no inten- 
tion to commend. Of this kind the following story will serve 
as an example : " A gentleman who had an employment be- 
stowed on him without so much as being known to his ben- 
efactor, waited upon the great man who was so generous, 
and was beginning to say he was infinitely obliged — ^ Not at 
o//,' says the patron, turning from him to another ; ' had 1 

* This will serve to explain what Bonhours, a celebrated French critic, 
and a great advocate for perspicuity, hath advanced on this subject: "Sou- 
venez-vous que rien n'est plus oppose a la veritable delicatesse que d'ex 
primer trop les choses, et que le grand art consiste a ne pas lout diie sai 
certain sujels; a glisser deesus pliitot que d'yappuyer; et un mot, a eu 
taisserpenserauxautres plus que Ton n'en dit." — Manier' de bien Pens<r, <Sic 

C o 


Known a more deserving man in Englvnd, he should not have had 
It.' "* Here he apparent intention of the minister was oniy lo 
excuse the person on whom the favour had been conferred 
the trouble of maiving an acknowledgment, by assuring him 
',hat it had not been given from personal attachment or par- 
tiality. But while he appears intending only to say this, he 
says what implies the greatest praise, and, as it were, acci 
dentally betrays the high opinion he entertained of the ott. 
ers merit. If he had said directly, " You are the most de- 
serving man that I know in England," the answer, though 
implying no more than what he did say, would have been not 
only indelicate, but intolerable. On so slight a turn in the 
expression it frequently depends whether the same sentiment 
shall appear delicate or gross, complimental or affronting. 

Sometimes praise is very successfully and very delicately 
conveyed under an appearance of chagrin. This constitutes 
the merit of that celebrated thought of Boileau : " To imagine 
in such a warlike age, which abounds in Achilleses, that we 
can write verses as easily as they take towns."! The poet 
seems only venting his complaints against the unreasonable 
expectations of some persons, and at the same time discov- 
ers, as by chance, tlie highest admiration of his monarch and 
tlie heroes who served him, by suggesting the incredible ra- 
pidity of the success with which their arms were crowned. 

Sometimes, also, commendation will be couched with great 
delicacy under an air of reproach. An example of this I shall 
give from the paper lately quoted : " ' Mi/ lord,' said the Duk»» 

of B m, after his libertine way, to the Earl of O y, 

■you will certainly be damu'd.' ' How, my lord V said the earl, 
with some warmth. • Nay,' replied the duke, ' there's no help 
for it ; for it is positively said, " Cursed is he of whom all men 
speak ioell."'"X A still stronger example in thi.s way we 
have from the Drapier, who, speaking to Lord Molesworth of 
the seditious expressions of which he had himself been ac- 
cused, says, " 1 have witnesses ready to depose that your 
lordship hath said and writ fifty limes worse, and, what is 
still an aggravation, with infinitely more wit and learning, 
and stronger arguments ; so tiiat, as politics run, I do not 
know a person of more exceptionable principles tiian your- 
self; and if ever I shall be discovered, I think you will be 
bound in honour to pay my fine and sitpport me in prison, or 
else I may chance to inform against you by way of reprisal."^ 

1 shall produce one other instance from the same hand,ol 
an indirect but successful maimer of praising, by seeming to 
invert the course of the obligation, and to represent the per- 

* Tatler, No. 17. 

t " Et ilans ce teins guerrier et fecond en Achilles 

Croil que Ton fi'.t 'es vers, comme Ton prend les villes." 
X Tatler, No l~ ij Drapier's Let., * 


«on obliging as the person obliged. Swift, in a letter to the 
Archbisiiop of Dublin, speaking of Mr. Harley, then lord-high 
treasurer, afterward Earl of Oxford, by whose means the 
Irish clergy had obtained from the queen the grant of the first 
fruits and tenths, says, " I told him that, for my part, I thought 
he was obliged to the clergy of Ireland for giving him an oc- 
casion of gratifying the pleasure he took in doing good to the 

It may be observed, that delicacy requires indirectness of 
manner no less in censure than in praise. If the one, when 
open and direct, is liable to be branded with the name o{ flat- 
ten/, the other is no less exposed to the opprobrious appella- 
tion o( abuse ; both alike, though in diflerent ways, offensive 
to persons of tase and breeding. I shall give, from the work 
last quoted, a specimen (1 cannot say of great delicacy) in 
stigmatizing, but at least of such an indirect manner as is 
sufficient to screen the author from the imputation of down- 
right rudeness. " 1 hear you are like to be the sole opposer 
of the Bank ; and you will certainly miscarry, because it 
would prove a most perfidious thing. Bankrupts are always 
for setting up banks ; how, then, can you think a bank will 
fail of a majority in both houses V] It must be owned that 
the veil here is extremely thin, too thin to be atlogether de- 
cent, and serves only to save from the imputation of scurril- 
ity a very severe reproach. It is the manner which consti- 
tutes one principal distinction between the libeller and the 
satirist. I shall give one instance more of this kind from 
another work of the same author. '* To smooth the way for 
the return of popery in Queen Mary's time, the grantees were 
confirmed by the pope in the possession of the abbey-lands. 
But the bishop tells us that this confirmation was fraudulent 
and invalid. I shall believe it to be so, although I happen te 
read it in his lordship's history. "J Thus he insinuates, or sig- 
nifies by implication, that his lordship's history is full of lies. 
Now, from all the specimens I have exhibited, it will, I sup- 
pose, sufficiently appear to any person of common imderstaud- 
iig, that the obscurity required by delicacy, either in blaming 
or in commending, is totally distinct in kind from obscurity 
of expression, with which none of the examples above quoted 
is in the smallest, degree chargeable. 

The illustrations I have given on this topic will contribute 
in some measure to explain the obscurity that is requisite 
in allegories, apologues, parables, and enigmas. In all these 
sorts of composition there are two senses plainly intended, 
the literal and the figurative : the language is solely the sign 

* Swift's Letters, 10. + Swift's Letter, 10 

X I'refaco tc the IJishop of Sanim's Iiitroihiction to the 3d volume of \\\- 
Uistory ol i le Kefoiiiialiori. 


of the literal sense, and the literal sense is the sign of the 
figurative. Perspicuity in the style, which exhibits only the 
literal sense, is so far from being to be dispensed with here, 
that it is even more requisite in this kind of composition than 
in any other. Accordingly, you will, perliaps, nowhere find 
more perfect models both of simplicity and of perspicuity of 
style than in the parables of the Gospel. Indeed, in every 
sort of composition of a figurative character, more attention 
is always and justly considered as due to this circumstance 
than in any other sort of writing, ^sop's fables are a noted 
example of this remark. In farther confirmation of it, we 
may observe, that no pieces are commonly translated with 
greater ease and exactness than the allegorical, and that even 
by those who apprehend nothing of the mystical sense. This 
surely could never be the case if the obscurity were charge- 
able on the language. 

The same thing holds here as in painting emblems or gra 
ving devices. It may, without any fault in the painter or en- 
graver, puzzle you to discover what the visible figure of the 
sun for example, which you observe in the emblem or the 
device, was intended to signify ; but if you are at a loss to 
know whether it be the figure of the sun or the figure of the 
moon that you are looking at, he must have undoubtedly been 
a bungling artist. The body, therefore, if I may so express 
myself, of the emblem or of the device, and precisely for the 
same reason, of the riddle or of the allegory, must be dis 
tinctly exhibited, so as scarcely to leave room for a possibil- 
ity of mistake. The exercise that in any of these perform- 
ances is given to ingenuity, ought wholly to consist in read- 
ing the soul. 

1 know no style to which darkness of a certain sort is more 
suited than to the prophetical. Many reasons might be as- 
signed which render it improper that prophecy should be per- 
fectly understood before it be accomplished. Besides, we 
are certain that a prediction may be very dark before the ac- 
complishment, and yet so plain afterward as scarcely to ad- 
mit a doubt in regard to the events suggested. It does not 
belong to critics to give laws to prophets, nor does it fall 
within the confines of any human art to lay down rules for a 
species of composition so far above art. Thus far, however 
wc may warrantably observe, that when the prophetic style 
is imitated in poetry, the piece ought, as much as possible, to 
possess the character above mentioned. This character, in 
my opinion, is possessed in a very eminent degree by Mr. 
Gray's ode called The Bard. It is all darkness to one who 
knows nothing of the English history posterior to the reign 
of Edward the First, and all light to one who is well acquaint- 
ed with that liistory. But this is a kind of writing whose pe- 
culiarities can scarcely be considered as exceptions from or- 
rlinarv rules 


But, farther, may not a little obscurity be sometimes very 
suitable in dramatic composition 1 Sometimes, indeed, bux 
f ery seldom ; else tlie purpose of the exhibition woiild be 
lost. The drama is a sort of moral painting, and characters 
must be painted as they are. A blunderer cannot properly be 
introduced conversing with all the perspicuity and precision 
of a critic, no more than a clown can be justly represented 
expressing himself in the polished style of a courtier. In 
like manner, when the mind is in confusion and perplexity, 
arising from the sudden conflict of violent passions, the lan- 
guage will of necessity partake of the perturbation. Inco- 
herent hints, precipitate sallies, vehement exclamations, in- 
terrupted, perhaps, by feeble checks from religion or philoso- 
phy — in short, everything imperfect, abrupt, an( desultory, 
are the natural expressions of a soul overwhelm( d in such a 
tumult. But even here it may be said with truth, dial to out 
."^killed in reading Nature there will arise a light out of the 
darkness, which will enable him to penetrate farther into the 
spirit than he could have done by the help of the most just 
most perspicuous, and most elaborate description. This 
m:g"rt l)e illustrated, were it necessary ; but a case so singu- 
lar :s hardly called an exception. The dramatist, then, can 
but rarely clai'»i to be indulged in obscurity of language, the 
fabulist 1 ove. 



I SHALL conclude subject with inquiring whether it be 
possible that perspicuity should be carried to excess It 
hath been said that too much of it has a tendency to cloy the 
reader, and, as it gives no p'ay to tlie rational and active 
powers of the mind, will soon ^row irksome through excess 
of facility. In tliis manner some ab'e critics have expressed 
themselves on this point, who will be found not to differ in 
sentiment, but only in expression, fro-^a *he principles above 
laid down. 

'i'he objection ariseth manifestly from ih.'^ confounding ol 
two objects, the common and the clear, and thence very natu- 
rally their contraries, the new and the dark, tha* are widely 
difi'erent. If you entertain your reader solely o?- c?Mefly with 
thoughts that are either trite or obvious, you cannot fail soon 
to tire him. You introduce i'ew or no new seiuimeuts into 
his mind, you give him li-tlle or no information, and cniise- 
quently afford neither exercise to his reason nor ei.teriii- 
C c 2 


ment to his fancy. In what we read and what wo hear, wb 
always seek for something in one respect or other new. which 
we did not know, or, at least, attend to before. The less 
we find of this, the sooner we are tired. Such a trifling mi- 
nuteness, therefore, in narration, description, or argument, as 
an ordinary apprehension would render superfluous, is apt 
qnick.y to disgust us. The reason is, not because anything 
is said too perspicuously^ but because many things are said 
which ought not to be said at all. Nay, if those very things 
had been expressed obscurely (and the most obvious things 
may be expressed obscurely), the fault would have been 
much greater, because it would have required a good deal of 
attention to discover what, after we had discovered it, we 
should perceive not to be of sufficient value for requiting our 
pains. To an author of this kind we should be apt to apply 
the character which Bassanio in the play gives of Gratiano'?. 
conversation : " He speaks an infinite deal of nothing. His 
reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels ol 
chaff"; you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when 
you have them they are not worth the search.'"* It is there- 
fore futility in the thought, and not perspicuity in the lan- 
guage, which is the fault of such per("ormances. There is as 
little hazard that a piece shall he faulty in this respect, aa 
that a mirror shall be too faitiiful in reflecting the images o 
objects, or that the glasses of a telescope shall be too trans- 

At the same time, it is not to be dissembled that, with in- 
Attentive readers, a pretty numerous class, darkness frequent- 
ly passes for depth. To be perspicuous, on the contrary, and 
to be superficial, are regarded by them as synonymous. But 
it is not surely to their absurd notions that our language 
ought to be adapted. 

it is proper, however, before I dismiss this subject, to ob- 
serve, that every kind of style doth not admit an equal degree 
of perspicuity. In the ode, for instance, it is difficult, some- 
times perhaps impossible, to reconcile the utmost perspicuity 
with tiiat force and vivacity which the species of composi- 
tion requires. But even in this case, though we may justly 
say that the genius of the performance renders obscurity to 
a certain degree excusable, nothing can ever constitute it an 
excellence. Nay, it may still be affirmed with truth, that the 
more a writer can reconcile this quality of perspicuity with 
that w hich is the distinguishing excellence of the species o/ 
u imposition, his success will be the greater. 

* Shakspeare's Merchant of Venice, 






IFaving discussed the subject of perspicuity, by which the 
discourse is fitted to inform the understanding:, I come now 
to those qualities of style by which it is adapted to please the 
imagination, and, consequently, to awaken and fix the atten- 
tion. These I have already denominated vivacity and ele- 
gance, which correspond to the two sources whence, as was 
observed in the beginning of this inquiry,* the merit of an ad- 
dress to tlie fancy immediately results. By vivacity of ex- 
pression, resemblance is attained, as far as language can con- 
tribute to the attainment ; by elegance, dignity of manner. 

I begin with vivacity, whose nature (though perhaps the 
word is rarely used in a signification so extensive) will be best 
understood by considering the several principles from which 
it arises. There are three things in a style on which its vi- 
vacity depends, the choice of words, their number, and their 

The first thing, then, that comes to be examined is the 
words chosen. Words are either proper terms or rhetorical 
tropes ; and whether the one or the other, they may be re- 
garded not only as signs, but as sounds ; and, consequently, 
as capable, in certain cases, of bearing in some degree a nat- 
ural resemblance or affinity to the things signified. These 
three articles, therefore, proper terms, rhetorical tropes, and 
the relation which the sound may be made to bear to the 
=>ense, I shall, on the first topic, the choice of words, consider 
•severally, as far as concerns the subject of vivacity. 



I BEGIN with proper terms, and observe that the quality oi 
chief importance in these for producing the end proposed ia 
theiv speciality. Nothing can contribute more to enliven the 
expression than that all the words employed be as particular 
and determinate in their signification as will suit with the na- 
ture and the scope of the discourse. The more general th(5 

* Book i., < hap. i. 


terms are, the picture is the fainter; the more special they 
are, it is tlie brighter. The same sentiments may be exjjress- 
ed with equal justness, and even perspicuity, in the former 
way as in the latter ; but as the colouring will in that case be 
more languid, it cannot give equal pleasure to the fancy, and, 
by consequence, will not contribute so much either to fix the 
attention or to impress the memory. I shall illustrate this 
doctrine by some examples. 

In the song of Moses, occasioned by the miraculous pas- 
sage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, the inspired poet, 
speaking of the Egyptians, says, " They sank as lead in the 
mighty waters."* Make but a small alteration on the expres- 
sion, and say, " They fell as metal in the mighty waters," and 
the difference in the effect will be quite astonishing. Yet the 
sentiment will be equally just, and in either way the meaning 
of the author can hardly be mistaken. Nor is there anothei 
alteration made upon the sentence but that the terms are ren- 
dered more comprehensive or generical. To this alone, there- 
fore, the difference of the eflfect must be ascribed. To sink 
is, as it were, the species, as it implies only " falling or mo- 
ving downward in a liquid element;'' to fall answers to the ge- 
nus ;t in like manner, lead is the species, mclal is the genus. 

" Consider," says our Lord, " the lilies how they grow : they 
toil not, they spin not ; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon 
in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If, then, 
God so clothe the grass which to-day is in tne field and to- 
morrow is cast into the oven, how much moro will he clothe 
youT'J Let us here adopt a little of the tasteless manner 
of modern paraphrasts, by the substitution of more general 
terms, one of their many expedients of inrVigidating, and let 
us observe the eflfect produced by this (.iiange. " Consider 
the flowers how they gradually increase in tiieir size ; they 
do no manner of work, and yet I declare to you that no king 
whatever, in his most splendid habit, is dressed up like them. 
If, then, God in his providence doth so adorn the vegetable 
productions which continue but a little time on the land, and 
are afterward put into the fire, how much more will he pro- 
vide clothing for you V How spiritless is the same senti 
ment rendered by these small variations ! The very partic- 

* Exod., XV., 10. 

t I am sensible that genus and species are not usually, and perhaps can- 
not be so properly, applied to verbs ; yet there is in the reference which the 
meanings of two verbs sometimes bear to each other what nearly resem- 
bles this relation. It is only when to fall means to move downward, as a 
brick from a chimney-top or a pear from the tree, that it may lie denomina- 
ted a genus in respect of the verb to sink. Sometimes, indeed, the formei 
denotes merely a sudden change of posture from erect to prostrate, as v>:hen 
a man who stands upon the ground is said to fall, though he remain still on 
the ground. In ibis way we speak of the fall of a lower, of a house, or »if 
a wall. J Luke, xii., 27 and 9.8 


alarizing of to-day and to-morroiv is infinitely more expres- 
sive of transitoriness than any description wherein the terms 
arc general that can be substituted in its room. 

Yet to a cold annotator, a man of mere intellection with- 
out fancy, the latter exhibition of the sentiment would ap- 
pear the more emphatical of the two. Nor would he want 
some show of reason for this preference. As a specimen, 
therefore, of a certain mode of criticising, not rarely to be 
met with, in which there is I know not what semblance of 
judgment without one particle of taste, I shall suppose a 
crilic of this stamp entering on the comparison of the prece- 
ding quotation and the paraphrase. " In the one," he would 
argue, " the beauty of only one sort of flowers is exalted 
above the effects of human industry, in the other the beauty 
of the whole kind. In the former, one individual monarch is 
said not to have equalled them in splendour, in the latter it is 
affirmed that no monarch whatever can equal them." How- 
ever specious this way of reasoning may be, we are certain 
that it is not solid, because it doth not correspond with the 
principles of our nature. Indeed, what was explained above* 
in regard to abstraction, and the particularity of our ideas, 
properly so called, may serve, in a great measure, to account 
for the effect which speciality hath upon the imagination. 
Philosophy, which, strictly considered, addresseth only the 
understanding, and is conversant about abstract truth, abounds 
in general terms, because these alone are adequate to the 
subject treated. On the contrary, when the address is made 
by eloquence to the fancy, which requires a lively exhibition 
of the object presented to it, those terms must be culled that 
are as particular as possible, because it is solely by these that 
the object can be depicted. And even the most rigid philos 
opher, if he choose that his disquisitions be not only under- 
stood, but relished (and without being relished they are un- 
derstood to little purpose), will not disdain sometimes to ap- 
ply to the imagination of his disciples, mixing the pleasant 
with the useful. This is one way of sacrificing to the Graces. 

But I proceed to give examples in such of the different 
parts of speech as are most susceptible of this beauty. The 
<irst shall be in the verbs. 

" It seem'd as there the British Neptune stood, 
With all his hosts of waters at command ; 
Beneath them to submit th" officious flood ; 
And with his trident shoved them off the sand."t 

The words submit and shoved are particularly expressive of 
the action here ascribed to Neptune. Tiie former of these 
verbs, submit, may indeed be called a Lalinism in the signifi- 
cation it hath in this passage. But such idioms, though im- 

* Hn.ik ii , chap, vii., sect. i. t Dryden's Year of Wonders 


proper in prose, are sometimes not ungraceful in the poetii 
dialect. If, in the last line, instead of shoved, the poet had 
used the verb raised, which, though not equivalent, would 
have conveyed much the same meaning, the expression had 
been fainter.* The next example shall be in adjectives and 

•' The kiss snatched hasty from the sideling maid, 
on guarciless."t 

Here both the words sidelong and snatch'd are very significant, 
and contribute much to the vivacity of the expression. Taken 
or ta'cn, substituted for the latter, would be much weaker. It 
may be remarked, that it is principally in those parts of speech 
whicii regard life and action that this species of energy takes 

I shall give one in nouns from Milton, who says concern- 
ing Satan, when he had gotten into the garden of Eden, 

"Thence up he flew, and on the tree of life 
Sat like a cormoranl.''X 

If for cormorant he had said bird of prciy, which would have 
equally suited both the meaning and the measure, the image 
would still have been good, but weaker than it is by this 

In adjectives the same author hath given an excellent ex- 
ample, in describing the attitude in which Satan was discov- 
ered by Ithuriel and his company, when that malign spirit 
was employed in infusing pernicious thoughts into the mind 
of our first mother. 

" Him there they found 
Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve."i5i 

No word in the language could have so happily expressed 
the posture as that which the poet hath chosen. 

It will be easy, from the same principles, to illustrate a re- 
mark of the Stagyrite on the epithet rosy-fingered, which Ho- 
mer hath given to the morning. This, says the critic, is bet- 
ter than if he had said purple-fingered, and far better than if 
he had said red-fingered\ Aristotle hath observed the effect 
solely in respect of beauty, but the remark holds equally true 
of these epitliels in respect of vivacity. This, in a great 
measure, may be deduced from what hath been said already. 
Of all the above adjectives, the last is the most vague and 
general, and therefore the worst ; the second is better, be- 
cause more special, purple being one species comprehended 
under red ; the first is the best, because the most particular, 

♦ In this instance Dryden hath even improved on the original he imitated, 
\vhich is not often the case either of translators or of imitators. Virgil says 
simply, "Levat ipse tridenti." t Thomson's Winter. 

(J Paradise Lost, b. iv. ij Ibid. 

II Arist., Khot., I. ill.; " Amipspsi i' cnttiv, otov poloSaKrv\oi 'jia; finWov ^ 
l-ui'iKaiiiKT\t^os, ri en (pnvXorcaoi' cpvdpoiaKTvXos" 


pointing to that single tint of purple which is to be found in 
the rose. I acknowledge, at the same time, that this meta. 
phorical epithet hath an excellence totally distinct from its 
vivacity. This I denominate its elegance. The object whence 
the metaphor is taken is a grateful object. It at once grati- 
fies two of the senses, the nose by its fragrance, and the eye 
by its beauty. But of this quality I shall have occasion to 
treat afterward. 

1 proceed at present in producing examples to confirm the 
theory advanced ; and to show how much even an adverb 
that is very particular in its signification may contribute to 
vivacity, I shall again have recourse to the Paradise Lost. 

" Some say he bid his angels turn askance 
The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more, 
From the sun's axle." 

If the poet, instead of saying askance, had said aside, which 
properly enough might have been said, the expression would 
have lost much of its energy. This adverb is of too general 
a signification, and might have been used with equal propri- 
ety, if the plane of the ecliptic had !)een made perpendicular 
to that of the equator ; whereas the word askance, in that case, 
could not have been employed, it denoting just such an ob- 
liquity in the inclination of these two planes as actually ob- 
tains. We have an example of the same kind in the descrip- 
tion which Thomson gives us of the sun newly risen. 

" Lo ! now apparent all, 
Aslant the dew-bright earth and colour'd air. 
He looks in boundless majesty abroad."* 

Farther, it will sometiines have a considerable effect in en 
livening the imagery, not only to particularize, but even to 
individuate the object presented to the mind. This conduct 
Dr. Blair, in his very ingenious Dissertation on the Poems of 
Ossian, observes to have been generally followed by his fa- 
vourite bard. His similitudes bring to our view the mist on 
the Hill of Crornla, the storm on the Sea of Malmor, and the reeds 
of the Lake of Lego. The same vivacious manner is often to be 
found in Holy Writ, swift as a roe or as a fawn upon Mount 
Bethcr,\ while as the snow in Salmon,X fragrant as the smell of 
Lebanon.^} And in the passage lately quoted from the Gos- 
pel, the introduction of the name of Solomon hath an admi- 
rable eflfect in invigorating the sentiment, not only as it points 
out an individual, but one of great fame in that country among 
the people whom our Saviour addressed ; one, be-sides, who 
was universally esteemed the wisest, the richest, and the 
most magnificent prince that ever reigned over Israel. Now 
this is a consideration which was particularly apfosite to the 
"lesign of the speaker. 

♦ Slimmer. + Cnuf ii . 17 1 Psal Ixvui., 11 6 Hosea. xiv, 6 


It may, iirleed be imagined, that this manner can enliven 
ihe thought only to those who are acquainted with the indi- 
viduals mentioned ; but, on mature reflection, we may easily 
discover this to be a mistake. Not only do we, as it were, 
participate by sympathy in the known vivid perceptions of 
the speaker or the writer, but the very notion we form of an 
individual thing, known or unknown, from its being conceived 
as an individual, or as one thing, is of a more fixed nature 
than that we form of a .species, which is conceived to be equal- 
ly applicable to several things, resembling, indeed, in some 
respects, though unlike in others ; and for the same reason, 
the notion we have of a species is of a more steady nature 
than that we form of ci genus, because this last is applicable 
to a still greater number of objects, among which the difler- 
cnce is greater and the resemblance less. 

T mean not, however, to assert, that the method of individ- 
uating the object ought always to be preferred by the poet or 
the orator. If it have its advantages, it has its disadvanta- 
ges also, and must be used sparingly by those who choose 
that their writings should be more extensively known than in 
their own neighbourhood. Proper names are not, in the same 
respect, essential to the language as appcUaiivcs ; and even 
among the former, there is a difference between the names 
hnmvn to fame and the names of persons or things compara- 
tively oliscure. The last kind of names will ever appear as 
strangers to the greater part of readers, even to those who 
are masters of the language. Sounds to which the ear is not 
accustomed have a certain uncouihness in them, that renders 
them, when occurring frequently, fatiguing and disagreeable ; 
but that, nevertheless, when pertinently introduced, when 
neither the ear is tired by their frequency, nor the memory 
burdened by their number, they have a considerable effect in 
point of vivacity, is undeniable. 

This holds especially when, from the nature of the subject, 
the introduction of them may be expected. Every one is 
sensible, for instance, that the most humorous or engaging 
story loseth egregiously when the relater cannot or will not 
name the persons concerned in it. No doubt the naming of 
them has the greatest effect on those who are acquainted 
with them either personally or by character; but it hath 
some effect even on those who never heard of them before. 
It must be an extraordinary tale indeed which we can bear 
for any time to hear, if the narrator proceeds in this languid 
train : " A certain person, who shall be nameless, on a cer- 
tain occasion, said so and so, to which a certain other person 
in the company, who likewise shall be nameless, made an- 
swer." Nay, so dull doth a narrative commonly appear 
wherein anonymous individuals only are concerned, that we 
choose to uivo feigned names to the persons rather than none 


«t all. Nor is this device solely necessary for precluding 
<he ambiguity of the pronouns, and saving the tediousness 
of circumlocution ; for where neither ambiguity nor circum- 
locution would be the consequence, as where one man and 
one woman are all the interlocutors, this expedient is never- 
theless of gruat utility. Do but call them anything, the man 
suppose Theodosius, and the woman Constantia,* and by the 
illusion which the very appearance of names, though we 
know them to be fictitious, operates on the fancy, we shall 
conceive ourselves to be better acquainted with the actors, 
and enter with more spirit into the detail of their adventures, 
than it will be possible for us to do if you always speak of 
them in the indefiuite, the, and, therefore, the un- 
afFecwing style of the gentleman and the lady, or he and she. 
This manner, besides, hath an air of concealment and is 
ever rt-minding us that they are people we know nothing 

]t ariseth from the same principle that whatever tends to 
subject the things spoken of to the notice of our senses, es- 
pecially of our eyes, greatly enlivens the expression. In 
this way the demonstrative pronouns are often of consider- 
able use. " I have coveted," says Paul to the elders of Ephe- 
sus, " no man's silver, or gold, or apparel ; yea, ye yourselves 
know that these hands have ministered to my necessities, and 
to them that were with me."t Had he said " my hands," the 
sentence would have lost nothing either in meaning or in per- 
spicuity, but very much in vivacity. The difference to hear- 
ers is obvious, as the former expression must have been ac- 
companied with the emphatic action of holding up his hands 
to their view. To readers it is equally real, who in such a 
case instantaneously enter into the sentiments of hearers. In 
like manner, the English words yon and yonder are more em- 
phatical, because more demonstrative, than the pronoun thai 
and the adverb there. The last two do not necessarily imply 
that the object is in sight, which is implied in the first two. 
Accordingly, in these words of Milton, 

" For proof look up, 
And read thy fate in yon celestial sign, "I 

the expression is more vivid than if it had been " that celes- 
tial sign." " Sit ye here," saith our Lord, " while 1 go and 

* The choice, however, is not quite arbitrary even in fictitious names. 
It is always injudicious to employ a name which, from its customary appli- 
cation, may introduce an idea unsuitable to the character it is affixed to. 
This error I think Lord liohngbroke chargeable with, in assigning the r.^ote 
Damon to his philosophical antagonist (Let. to M. de Pouilly). Though we 
Tead of a Pythagorean philosopher so called, yet in this country we are so 
much accustomeii to meet with this name in pastorals and amorous songs, 
that it is tinposjible not to p.ssociate with it the notion of some plaintir« 
shepherd or lovesick swain. 

* 4cts. XX . 31. .Tl t Paradise 1 MJ. 



pray yimdcr.''''* The adverb there would not have i)een neai 
SO expressive.! Though we cannot say propeny that pro- 
nouns or adverbs, either of place or of time, are susceptible oi 
genera and species, yet we can say (which amounts to the 
same as to the effect) that some are more and some less lim- 
ited in signification. 

To the above remarks and examples on the subject of 
speciality/, I shall only add, that in composition, particularly 
of the descriptive kind, it invariably succeeds best for bright- 
ening the image to advance from general expressions to more 
special, and thence, again, to more particular. 'I'his, in the 
language of philosophy, is descending. We descend to par- 
ticulars ; but in the language of oratory it is ascending. A 
very beautiful climax will sometimes be constituted in this 
manner, the reverse will often have all the effect of an anti- 
climax. For an example of this order in description, take 
the following passage from the Song of Solomon : " My be- 
loved spake and said to me. Arise, my love, my fair, and 
come away ; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and 
gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the lime of the sing- 
ing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in 
our land, the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the 
vines with the tender grape perfume the air. Arise, my 
love, my fair, and come away. "J The poet here, with admi- 
rable address, begins with mere negatives, observing the ab- 
sence of every evil which might discourage his bride from 
hearkening to his importunate request, then he proceeds by 
a fine gradation to paint the most inviting circumstances that 
coul I serve to ensure the compliance of the fair. The first 
expression is the most general : " The winter is past.'' The 
next is more special, pointing to one considerable and very 
disagreeable attendant upon winter, the rain. " The rain is 
over and gone." Thence he advanceth to the positive indi- 
cations of the spring, as appearing in the effects produced 
upon the plants which clothe the fields, and on the winged 
inhabitants of the grove. " The flowers appear on the earth, 
and the time of the singing of birds is come." But as though 
this were still too general, from mentioning birds and plants, 
hs proceeds to specify the turtle, perhaps considered as the 
emblem of love and constancy ; the Jig-tree and the vine, as 
the earnest of friendship and festive joy, selecting that par- 
ticular with regard to each which most strongly marks the 
presence of the all-reviving spring. " The voice of the turtle 

♦ Matt., xxvi., 36. 

t Le Cierc thus renders the original into French : " Asseyez-vous ;ci 
pendant que je m'en irai prier la." At the same time, sensible how weakl) 
the meaning is expressed by the adverb Id, he subjoins in a note, ' Dans ui 
lieu qu'il leur montroitdu doigt." The English version needs no such su^ 
-Ipment. * Chap . ii., 10, 11, 12. 13. 


is heard in oar land, the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, 
and the vines with the tender grape perfume the air." The 
passage is not more remarkable for the liveliness than for 
the elegance of the picture it exhibits. The examples are 
all taken from whatever can contribute to regale he senses 
and awaken love ; yet, reverse the order, and the beauty is 
almost totally effaced. 

So much for that quality in proper terms which confeis vi- 
yacity on the expression. 



Part I. Prelimmary Observations concerning Tropes. 

I COME now to inquire how far the judicious use of tropes 
IS also conducive to the same end. It hath been common 
with rhetoricians to rank under the article of diction not only 
all the tropes, but even the greater part of the figures of elo- 
quence, which they have uniformly considered as qualities 
or ornaments merely of elocution, and therefore as what 
ought to be explained among the properties of style. It is, 
however, certain, that some of them have a closer connexion 
with the thought than with the expression, and, by conse- 
quence, fall not so naturally to be considered here. Thus all 
the kinds of comparison, as they imply a likeness in the 
things nnd not in the symbols, belong properly to the thought 
Niiy, some comparisons, as was remarked above,* are no< 
mere illustrations of a particular sentiment, but are also ar- 
guments from analogy in support of it ; and if thus compari- 
son holds more directly of thought 'han of language, the same 
may doubtless be said of all those otner figures which, I have 
already observed, are but different modes of exhibiting a com- 

It must be owned, however, that metaphor, though no othei 
in effect than comparison in epitome, hath at least as inti- 
mate a connexion with the style as with the sentiment, and 
may therefore be considered under either head. That we 
may perceive the reason oi this peculiarity, let it be ob- 
served that there is a particular boldness in metaphor, which 
is not to be found in the same degree in any of the figures ol 
rhetoric. Without anything hke an explicit comparison, anu 
commonly without any warning or apology, the name of one 
thing is obtruded upon us for the name of another quite dif- 
ferent, though resembling in some quality. The consequence 
of this is, that as there is always in this trope an apparent, a( 
least, if it cannot be called a real, impropriety, and some de 

♦ Book i , chap, vii., sect. ii. On Engaging AtienUon 


gtoc of obscurity, a new metaphor is rarely to be risked , 
and as to ordinary metaphors, or those which have already 
received the public sanction, and which are commonly very 
numerous in every tongue, the metaphorical meaning comes 
to be as really ascertained by custom in the particular lan- 
guage as the original, or what is called the literal meaning ol 
the word ; and in this respect metaphors stand on the same 
foot of general use with proper terms. 

What hath now been observed concerning metaphor may 
with very little variation be affirmed of these three othei 
tropes, synecdoche, metonymy, and antonomasia. These are 
near akin to the former, as they also imply the substitution 
of one word for another, when the things signified are re- 
lated. The only difference among them is, that they respect 
different relations. In metaphor the sole relation is resem- 
blance ; in synecdoche, it is that which subsisteth between the 
species and the genus, between the part and the whole, and 
between the matter and the thing made from it; in metonym]/. 
which is the most various of the tropes, the relation is nev- 
ertheless always reducible to one or other of these three 
causes, effects, or adjuncts ; in antonomasia, it is merely that 
of the individual to the species, or conversely. There is ont 
trope, irony, in whicli the relation is contrariety. But of this 
I shall have occasion to speak when 1 come to consider that 
quality of style which hath been named animation. 

On a little attention, it will be found to be a plain conse- 
quence of what hath been observed above, that though any 
simile, allegory, or prosopopeia is capable of being translated 
(and that even without losing any of its energy) from one 
tongue into another, a metaphor, a synecdoche, or a meton 
ymy (for this holds more rarely of antonomasia), which is 
both significant and perspicuous in an original performance, 
is frequently incapable of being rendered otherwise than by 
a proper word. The corresponding metaphor, synecdoche, 
or metonymy in another language will often be justly charge- 
able with obscurity and impropriety, perhaps even with ab- 
surdity. In support of this remark, let it be observed, that 
the noun sail in our tongue is frequently used, and by the 
same trope that the noun puppis is in Latin, to denote a ship. 
Let these synecdoches of a part for the whole, which are so 
rory similar, be translated and transposed, and you will im- 
mediately perceive that a man could not be said to speak 
Latin who in that language should call a ship velum, noi 
would you think that he spoke better English who in our lan- 
guage should call it a. poop* These tropes, therefore, arc of 

* Tliis doctrine might be ill .strated by innumerable examples, if it werf 
■lecessary. For an instance, take that expression of Cicero (Pro Legario) 
' Cuius latus ille mucro pelebat ?" Here we have a synecdoche in th» 
*ord mucro, and a metauhor in the word peHbat, neither of which can b» 


a mixed nature. At the same time that they bear a reference 
*o the primitive signification, they derive from their custom- 
ary application to the figurative sense, that is, in other words, 
from the use of language, somewhat of the nature of proper 

In farther confirmation of this truth, it may be remarked, 
that of two words, even in the same language, which are 
synonymous, or nearly so, one will be used figuratively tc 
denote an object which it would be unsufferable to employ 
the other to denote, though naturally as fit for suggesting 
it. It hath been said that " an excellent vein of satire runs 
hrough the whole of Gulliver's Travels." Substitute here 
artery in the room of vein, and you will render the sentence 
absolutely ridiculous. The two words beast and brute are 
often metaphorically applied to human creatures, but not in 
the same signification. The former denotes either a block- 
head or a voluptuary of the grossest kind ; the latter, one in 
the highest degree unmannerly and ferocious. Accordingly, 
we speak of beastly ignorance ; we say " Gluttony is a beastly 
■vice ;" but we should say, " His behaviour to those unhappy 
people was quite 6r«/fl/." The word brutish, how Jver, though 
derived from the same root, is employed, like beastly, to de- 
note stupid or ignorant. Thus to say of any man " he acted 
brutishly,*' and to say " he acted brutally," are two very dif- 
ferent tilings. The first implies he acted stupidly ; the sec- 
ond, he acted cruelly and rudely. If we recur to the nature 
of the things themselves, it will be impossible to assign a 
satisfactory reason for these differences of application. The 
usage of the language is, therefore, the only reason. 

It is very remarkable that the usages in different languages 
are in this respect not only diff'erent, but even sometimes 
contrary, insomuch that the same trope will suggest oppo- 
site ideas in diff'erent tongues. No sort of metonymy is 
commoner among every people than that by which some 
parts of the body have been substituted to denote certain 
powers or aff'ections of the mind with which they are sup- 
posed to be connected. But as the opinions of one nation 
diff'er on this article from those of another, the figurative 
sense in one tongue will by no means direct us to the figura- 
tive sense in another. The same may be said of diff'erent 
ages. A commentator on Persius has this curious remark : 
" Naturalists affirm that men laugh with the spleen, rage with 

suitably rendered into English " Whose side did that point seek ?" is a 
Uteral version, but quite iniolerable. " Whom did yon mean to assail with 
that sword .'" Here the sense is exhibited ; but as neither trope is rendered, 
much of the energy is lost. In iike manner in the phrase " V'ario Marte 
pugnalum est," "'I'hey fought with various success," there is a inelonymy 
in the word Marte \\\\\c\\ no translator into any modem language, who hath 
common sense, would attempt to transplant into his version. — See T'viil 
dfs Trvpes, par M. du Marsais, art. vii., iv. 
D D 2 


the gall, love with the liver, understand with the heart, and 
boast with the lungs."* A modern may say with Sganarelle 
in the comedy, " It was so formerly, but we have changed all 
that ;"f for so unlike are our notions, that the spleen is ac- 
counted the seat of melancholy and ill-humour. The word 
is accordingly often used to denote that temper ; so that with 
us a splenetic man, and a laughing, merry fellow, form two 
characters that are perfect contrasts to each other. The 
heart we consider as the seat, not of the understanding, but 
of the affections and of courage. Formerly, indeed, we seem 
to have regarded the liver as the seat of courage ; hence the 
term rnilk-iwered for cowardly.| 

One plain consequence of the doctrine on this head which 
I have been endeavouring to elucidate is, that in every na 
lion where from time to time there is an increase of knowl 
edge and an improvement in the arts, or where there often 
appear new works of genius in philosophy, history, or poetry, 
there will be in many words a transition more or less grad- 
ual, as that improvement is more or less rapid, from their be- 
ing the figurative to their being the proper signs of certain 
ideas, and sometimes from their being the figurative sign of 
one, to tlieir being the figurative signs of another idea. And 
this, by-the-way, discloses to us one of the many sources of 
mutation to be found in every tongue. This transition will 
perhaps more frequently happen in metaphor than in other 
tropes, inasmuch as the relation of resemblance is generally 
less striking, and, therefore, more ready to be overlooked, 
than those relations on which the others are founded ; yet 

* Coinutuson these words of the first satire. Sum petulanti sphne cachinno. 
"Physicidiciint homines spleiie ridore, telle irasci, jecore am.ire, corde sa- 
pere, et pulmone jactari." In the ancient piece called the Testaments oJ 
the Twelve Patriarchs, supposed to be the work of a Christian of the first 
century, we find these words in the testament of Naphtali, for illustration 
that God made all thmgs good, adapting each to its proper use : ''KapJia* 
wj (Ppovf/otv, tiirap trpos &vpcv, ;^oXijv irpo{ vixpiav, sti ytXwra -rrXijva, vc<ppovi us 
ravovpytav." — Grab. Spicit. patrum, sec. i., t. i., ed. 2, p. 212. 

+ " Cela etoit autrefois ainsi ; mais nous avons change tout cela." Le 
irrdecin maigre lui. — MoUire. 

X From these things we may observe, by-the-way, how unsafe it is in 
translating, especially from an ancient language into a modern, to reckon 
that because the proper sense in two words of the difTercnt languages cor- 
responds, the metaphorical sense of the same words will correspond also. 
In this last respect the words, as we have seen, may nevertheless be very 
different in signification, or even opposite. I think, in particular, that many 
translators of the Bible have been betrayed into blunders through not sulli- 
ciently adverting to this circumstance. For instance, nothing at first ap- 
pears to be jnster, as well as a more literal version of the Gre(;k oKXripoKnp- 
iios, than the English hard-hearted. Vet 1 suspect that the true meaning 
of the former term, both in the Septuaginl and in the New Testament, is 
not cruel, as the English word imports, but indocile, intractable. The gen« 
eral remark might be illusti ated by numberless examples ; but this is not 
the place. 


IhaX ihey too will sometimes be effected by it we have no rea- 
son to question. That in those metonymies, in particular, 
of which some instances have been given, wherein the con- 
nexion may be justly accounted more imaginary than real, 
such changes in the application should arise, might naturally 
be expected. The transition from the figurative to the prop- 
er, in regard to such terms as are in daily use, is indeed in- 
evitable. The word vessel in English hath doubtless been at 
first introdiiced by a synecdoche to signify a ship, the genus 
for the species, but is now become by use as much a proper 
term in this signification as the word ship itself. 

With regard to metaphor, it is certain that, in all languages, 
there are many words which at first had one sense only, and 
afterward acquired another by metaphorical application, of 
which words both senses are now become so current that it 
would be difficult for any but an etymologist to determine 
which is the original and which the metaphorical. Of this 
kind in the English tongue are the substantives conception, 
apprehension, expression ; the first of these, conception, when 
it notes an action of the mind, and when the beginning of 
pregnancy in a female, is alike supported by use ; the second 
and third terms, apprehension for seizure, and expression for 
squeezing out, are now rather uncommon. Yet these are 
doubtless the primitive significations. 

It may be farther remarked, that in some words the meta- 
phorical sense has jostled out the original sense altogether, 
so that in respect of it they are become obsolete. Of this 
kind in our tongue are the verbs to train, to curb, to edify, to 
embrace, the primitive significations whereof were to draw, to 
bend, to build, to lift. And if one should now speak of the 
acuteness of a razor or of the ardour of a fire, we could not 
say that to a linguist he would speak unintelligibly, but by eve 
ry man of sense he would be thought to express himself both 
pedantically and improperly. The word ruminate, though 
good in the metaphorical sense, to denote musin<^ on a subject, 
would scarcely be admitted, except in poetry, in the literal 
sense, for chewing the cud. Thus it happens with languages 
as with countries ; strangers received at first through chari 
ity, often in time grow strong enough to dispossess the na- 

Now, in regard to all the words which fall under the two 
last remarks, whatever they were formerly, or in whatever 
light they may be considered by the grammarian and the lex- 
icographer, they cannot be considered as genuine metaphors 
by the rhetorician. I have already assigned the reason. They 
have nothing of the effect of metaphor upon the hearer. On 
the contrary, like proper terms, they suggest directly to his 
iiind, without the intervention of any image, the ideas which 
he speaker proposed to convey by them. 


From all that hath been said, it evidently follows, that those 
metaphors which hold mostly of the thought, that is, those to 
which the ear hath not been too much familiarized, have most 
of the peculiar vivacity resulting from this trope ; the inva- 
riable effect of very frequent use being to convert the meta- 
phorical into a proper meaning. A metaphor hath undoubt 
edly the strongest effect when it is first ushered into the Ian 
guage ; but by reason of its peculiar boldness, this, as was 
hinted already, is rarely to be hazarded. I may say it ought 
never to be hazarded, unless when both the perspicuity is se- 
cured to an ordinary understanding by the connexion, and 
the resemblance suggested is very striking. A new meta- 
phor (and the same holds, though in a lower degree, of every 
trope) is never regarded with indifference. If it be not a 
beauty, it is a blemish. Besides, the more a language ad- 
vanceth in richness and precision, and the more a spirit of 
criticism prevails among those who speak it, the more deli- 
cate the people become in this respect, and the more averse 
to the admission of new metaphors. It is even proper it 
should be so, there not being the same plea of necessity in 
such languages as in those that are but poorly supplied with 
words. Hence it is that, in modern times, the privilege of 
coining these tropes is almost confined to poets and orators ; 
and as to the latter, they can hardly ever be said to have this 
indulgence, unless when they are wrought up to a kind of en- 
llmsiasm by their subject. Hence, also, have arisen those 
qualifying phrases in discourse, which, though so common in 
(Jrcek and Latin, as well as in modern languages, are rarely, 
If ever, to be met with either in the rudest or in the most an- 
cient tongues. These are, so to speak, If I may thus express 
'/ii/self, and the like. 

I cannot help remarking, before I conclude this article of 
the origin of tropes, and of the changes they undergo through 
the gradual operation of custom, that critics ought to show 
more reserve and modesty than they commonly do in pro- 
nouncing either on the fitness or on the beauty of such as 
occur sometimes in ancient authors. For, first, it ought to 
be observed (as may be collected from what has been shown 
above), that the less enlightened a nation is, their language 
will of necessity the more abound in tropes, and the people 
will be the less shy of admitting those which have but a re- 
mote connexion with the things they are employed to denote. 
Again, it ought to be considered that many words which must 
appear as tropical to a learner of a distant age, who acquires 
llie language by the help of grammars and dictionaries, may, 
through the imperceptible influence of use, have totally lost 
that appearance to the natives, who consider them purely as 
proper terms. A stranger will be apt to mistake a grammati 
lal for a rhetorical trope, or even an accidental honvwivnn 


for a far-fetched figure. Lastly, it ought to be remembered 
how much the whole of this matter is everywhere under the 
domiiiioa of caprice, and how little the figurative part of the 
language of any people is susceptible of a literal translation, 
that will be accounted tolerable, into the language of any 
other. If these things were properly attended to, I imagine 
we should, on these s jbjects, be more diffident of our own 
judgment, ;ind, consequently, less captious and decisive. 

So much for the nature of tropes in general, and those uni- 
versal principles on which in every tongue their efficacy de- 
pends ; and so much for the distinction naturally consequent 
on those principles into grammatical tropes and tropes rhe- 

Part II The different Sorts of Tropes conducive to Vivacity 

I now consider severally the particular ways wherein rhe- 
torical tropes may be rendered subservient to vivacity. 


The first way I shall mention is when, by means of the 
trope, a species is aptly represented by an individual, or a 
genus by a species. 1 begin with this, because it comes 
nearest that speciality in the use of proper terms, from which, 
as was evinced already, their vivacity chiefly results. Of the 
individual for the species I shall give an example from our 
celebrated satirist, Mr. Pope : 

" May some choice patron bless each gray goose quill ! 
Mayev'ry Bavins have his Bulb still !"* 

Here, by a beautiful antonomasia, Bavius, a proper name, is 
made to represent one whole class of men ; Bufo, also a 
proper name (it matters not whether real or fictitious), is 
made to represent another class. By the former is meant 
every bad poet, by the latter every rich fool who gives his 
patronage to such. As what precedes in the Essay secures 
the perspicuity (and in introducing tropes of this kind, espe- 
cially new ones, it is necessary that the perspicuity be thus 
secured), it was impossible in another manner to express the 
sentiment with equal vivacity. 

There is also a sort of antonomasia to which use hath long 
ago given her sanction, and which, therefore, needs not lo be 
introduced with much precaution. Such is the following ap- 
plication of famous names : a Solomon for a wise man, a 
Crresus for a rich man, a Judas for a traitor, a Demosthenes 
for an orator, and a Homer for a poet. Nor do these want a 
share of vivacity, when apposite and properly managed. 

That kind of synecdoche by which the species is put foi 
Mie genus, is used but sparingly in our language. Examples 

* Piologne to the Satire* 


however, occur sometimes, as when an assassin is termed a 
cut-lhroal, or a fiction a lie, as in these words of Dryden : 
" The cock and fox the fool and knave imply, 
The truth is moral, though the tale a He." 

In like manner, slaughter, especially in battle, is by poets 
sometimes denominated murder, and legal prosecution perse- 
cution. Often, in these instances, the word may justly be 
said to be used without a figure. It may, however, in gen- 
eral, be affirmed of all those terms, that they are more vivid 
and forcii)le for this single reason, because they are more 

There is one species of the onomalopeia which very much 
resembles the antonomasia just now taken notice of. It is 
when a verb is formed from a proper name, in order to ex- 
press some particular action for which the person to whom 
the name belonged was remarkable. An example of this we 
have in the instructions which Hamlet gave the players who 
were to act his piece before the king and the queen. He 
meutioned his having seen some actors wfio in tlieir way out- 
heroded Herod, intimating that by the outrageous gestures 
they used in the representation they overacted even the fury 
and violence of that tyrant. This trope h;!th been admirably 
imitated by Swift, who says concerning Blackmore, the au- 
thor of a translation of some of the Psalms into Knglish verse. 
" Sternhold himself he out-steriiholJed." 

How languid in comparison of this would it have been to 
say, that in Sternhold's own manner Sir Richard outdid him. 
But it must be owned that this trope, the onumatopeia, in any 
form whatever, hath little scope in our tongue, and is hardly 
admissible except in burlesque. 


The second way I shall take notice of, wherein the use of 
tropes may conduce to vivacity, is when the trope tends to 
fix the attention on that particular of the subject which is 
most interesting, or on which the action related, or fact re- 
ferred to, immediately depends. This bears a resemblance 
to the former method ; for bj' that an individual serves to ex- 
hibit a species, and a species a genus ; by this a part is made 
to represent the whole, the abstract, as logicians term it, to 
suggest ihe concrete, the passion its object, the operation ita 
subject, the instrument the agent, and the gift the giver. The 
tropes which contribute in this way to invigorate the expre.s 
sion are these two, the synecdoche and the metonymy. 

For an illustration of this in the synecdoche, let it be ob 
served, that by this trope the word hand is sometimes used 
for man, especially one employed in manual labour. Now in 
such expressions as the following, 


"All hands emjiloy'd, the royal work grows warm,"* 

it u obvious, from the principles above explained, that the 
trope contributes to vivacity, and could not be with equal ad- 
vantage supplied by a proper term. But in such phrases as 
these, " One of the hands fell overboard" — " All our hands 
were asleep," it is ridiculous, as what is affirmed hath no 
particular relation to the part specified. The application of 
tropes in this undistinguishing manner is what principally 
characterizes the contemptible cant of particular professions 
I shall give another example. A sail with us frequently de- 
notes a ship. Now to say " We descried a sail at a distance," 
hath more vivacity than to say " We descried a ship,''^ be- 
cause, in fact, the sail is that part which is first discovered 
by the eye ; but to say " Our sails ploughed the main," In- 
stead of " Our ships ploughed the main," would justly be ac- 
counted nonsensical, because what is metaphorically termed 
ploughing the main is the immediate action of the keel, a very 
different part of the vessel. To produce but one other in- 
stance, the word roof is emphatically put for house in the 
following quotation : 

" Return to her? and fifty men dismiss'd? 
No ; rather I abjure all roofs, and choose 
To be a comrade with the wolf and owl, 
To wage against the enmity o' th' air 
Necessity's sharp pinch. "t 

The notion of a house as a shelter from the inclemencies oi 
the sky, alluded to in these lines, directly leads the imagina- 
tion to form a more vivid idea of that part of the building 
which is over our hcadfy-J 

It was observed that the metonytiiy also contributes in this 

«■ Dryden. + Shakspeare s Lear. 

X The Latin example quoted from Tully in a note on the first p^rt of thia 
section affords a good illustration of this doctrine : " Cnjns latus ille mucro 
peiebat ?" Mucro for gladius, the point for the weapon, is, in this place a 
trope particularly apposite. From the point the danger immediately pro- 
ceeds ; to it, therefore, in any assault, the eye both of the assailant and of 
(he assailed are naturally directed: of the one that he may guide it aright, 
and of the other that he may avoid it. Consequently, on it the imagination 
will li.x, as on that particular which is the most interesting, because on it 
the event directly depends ; and wherever the expression thus happily as- 
sists the fancy by coinciding with its natural bent, the sentiment is exhib- 
ited with vivacity. We may remark by the way, that the specifying of the 
part auned at, by saying Cujus latus, and not simply quem, makes the ex- 
pression still more graphical. Yet latus here is no trope, else it had been 
Quod latus, not Cujus latus. But that we may conceive the difference be- 
tween such a proper use of tropes as is here exemplified, and such an inju- 
dicious use as noway tends to enliven the expression, let us suppose the 
oiator had intended to say " he held a sword in his hand." If, instead of 
the proper word, he had employed the synecdoche, and said " mucronem nianu 
tenebat," he would have spoken absurdly, and counteracted the bent of the 
fancy, which in this instance leads th*> attention to the hiU of the >wcrd, 
not to the point. 


way to vivacity. It doth so by substituting the instrument 
for the agent, by employing the abstract to represent the con- 
crete, or by naming the passion for its object, the gift for the 
giver, the operation for the subject. Of the first sort, the in- 
stances are very common ; as when we say of a poem that it 
is the production of an elegant pen instead of an elegant wri- 
ter. In the same way pencil is sometimes used for painter 
It must be owned, that the triteness of such expressions con- 
siderably lessens their value, and that for a reason explained 
in the preceding part of this section. It is, however, certain, 
that what vivacity can justly be ascribed to them ariseth 
purely from the principle which hath jusi; now been illustra- 
ted in the synecdoche ; namely, a coincidence in the expres- 
sion with the bent of the imagination, both pointing to that 
particular with which the subject spoken of is immediately 
connected. Nay, so close is the relation between this spe- 
cies of the metonymy and that of the synecdoche above ex- 
emplified, that the same expression may sometimes be con- 
^<idered indifferently as belonging to either trope. Thus, in 
tlie quotation brought from Dryden. " All hands employ'd," it 
is of no consequence whether we denominate the word hands 
one or other, a part for the whole, or the instrument for the 

Tlie second species of metonymy mentioned, the abstract 
for the concrete, occurs much seldomer, but hath also, in the 
same way, a ver)' good effect. Isaac Bickerstaff, in his lucu- 
brations, acquaints us with a visit which an eminent rake and 
his companions made to a Protestant nunnery erected in Eng- 
land by soine ladies of rank. " When lie entered," says the 
author, '* upon seeing a servant coming towards him with a 
design to tell him this was no place lor them, up goes my 
grave Impudence to tiie maid."* Everybody must perceive 
that the expression would have been incomparably fainter if 
he had said, " Up goes my grave impudent fellow to the maid." 
The reason is obvious : an impudent fellow means one who, 
imong otlicr qualities, has that of impudence ; whereas, by 
personifying the abstract, you leave no room for thinking of 
iny otiier quality ; the attention is entirely fixed on that to 
which the action related is imputable, and thus the natural 
ffindency of the fancy is humoured by the expression. 

The last species of this trope I took noti??e of, if that can 
be called one species which is so various in its appearances, 
presenting us sometimes with the passion instead of its ob- 
ject, sometimes with the operation instead of its subject, and 
sometimes with the gift instead of the giver, is m very fre« 
quent use. By this trope the Almighty hath been 6tyled " the 
'.error of the oppressor, and the refuge of th-. oppressed ;' 
which, though the same in sense, is more c, .phatical tha» 
' Tatler. No. 32. 


' the object of terror to the oppressor, and the giver of ref- 
uge to the oppressed." " The Lord is my song,''' says Moses ; 
'■ he is become my salvation ;"* that is, the subject of my 
song, the author of my salvation. Dryden makes Lord 
Shaftesbury style the Duke of Monmouth 

" The people's prayer, the glad diviner's theme, 
The young men's vision, and the old men's dream. "t 

Here the terms prayer, vision, dream (for the word theme is 
literal), are used each for its respective subject. Nothing is 
more natural or more common among all nations, the sim 
plest as well as the most refined, than to substitute the pas- 
sion for its object. JSuch tropes as these, my love, my joy, my 
delight, my aversion, my horror, for that which excites the 
emotion, are to be found in every language. Holy Writ 
abounds in them ; and they are not seldom to be met with in 
the poemt; of Ossian. " The sigh of her secret soul" is a fine 
metonymy of this kind, to express the youth for whom she 
sighs in secret. As tlie vivacity of the expression in such 
quotations needs no illustration to persons of taste, that the 
cause of this vivacity ariseth from the coincidence of the ex- 
pression with the bent of the imagination, fixing on the most 
interesting particular, needs no eviction to persons of judg- 


A third way wherein tropes may be rendered subservient 
to vivacity is when things intelligible are represented by 
things sensible. There is no truth more evident than that 
the imagination is more strongly affected by what is perceiv- 
ed by the senses than by what is conceived by the under- 
standing. ]f, therefore, my subject be of things only con- 
ceivable, it will conduce to enliven the style that the tropes 
which I employ, when I find it convenient to employ tropes, 
exhibit to the fancy things perceivable. 

I shall illustrate this doctrine first in metaphors. A meta- 
phor, if apposite, hath always some degree of vivacity, from 
the bare exhibition of likeness, even though the literal and 
the figurative senses of the word belong to the same class ol 
objects ; I mean only in this respect the same, that they be 
ooth sensible or both intelligible. Thus a blunder in the ad- 
ministration of public aff'airs hath been termed a solecism in 
politics, both things intelligible. Again, when the word sails 
is employed to denote the wings of a fowl, or conversely, 
when the word wings is adopted to signify tie sails of a ship, 
both objects are of the same class, as both things are sensi- 
ole ; yet these metaphors have a considerable share of vi' 

* Exod., xv., 2. ■* Absaio'n and Aohitophel 

E E 


vacity, by reason of the striking resemblance both in tne ap 
pearance of the things signified and in their use. The last 
however, is the best, for a reason which will be given in the 
next remark. But, in general, it may be asserted that, in the 
representation of things sensible, there is less occasion for 
this trope ; accordingly, this application of it is now 
entirely left to the poets. On the contrary, if we critically 
examine any language, ancient or modern, and trace its sev- 
eral terms and phrases to their source, we shall find it hold 
invariably, that all the words made use of to denote spiritual 
and intellectual things are in their origin metaphors, taken 
from the objects of sense. This shows evidently that the 
latter have made the earliest impressions ; have, by conse- 
quence, first obtained names in every tongue ; and are still, 
as it were, more present with us, and strike the imagination 
more forcibly than the former. 

It may be said, that if this observation be true, it is to no 
purpose to mention, as a method of enlivening the diction, the 
representing of intelligible things by sensible images, since it 
is impossible by language to represent them otherwise. To 
this 1 answer, that the words of which I am speaking I call 
metaphors in their origin ; notwithstanding which, they may 
be at present, agreeably to what was formerly observed, prop- 
er terms. When speaking of tropes in general, it was re- 
marked that many words, which to a grammatical eye appear 
metaphors, are in the rhetorician's estimate no metaphors at 
all. The ground of this diflference is, that the grammarian 
and the rhetorician try the words by very different tests. 
The touchstone of the former is etymology, that of the lat- 
ter is present use. The former peruseth a page, and perhaps 
finds not in the whole ten words that are not metaphorical • 
tlie latter examines the same page, and doth not discover in 
it a single metaphor. What critic, for example, would ever 
think of applying this appellation to terms- such as these — 
spirit, evidence, understanding, reflection ? or what etymologist 
would not acknowledge that to this trope solely these terms 
had owed their birth? 

But I proceed to give examples of vivacity by true rhetor- 
ical metaphors, wherein things sensible are brought to signi- 
fy things intelligible. Of this the following is one from I'ope : 
" At length Erasmus, that great, injured name 
(The glory of the priesthood and the shame !), 
Stemm'd the wild torrenf o( a barbarous age. 
And drove those holy V'andals otf the stage." 

Here the almost irresistible influence of general manners, 
which is an object purely of the understanding, is very ap- 
positely and vivaciously represented by a torrenf, ar object 
both of the sight and of the feeling. By the same vivid kind 
of metaphor, li^kt is use*! for knowledge, bridle for restraint. 


we speak of burning with zeal, beino^ injlamed with anger, 
and having a rooted prejudice. 

But metaphor is not the only trope which can in this way 
confer vivacity ; metonymy frequently, in a similar manner, 
promotes the same end. One very common species of the 
metonymy is when the badge is put for the office, and this 
invariably exhibits a sensible in lieu of an intelligible object. 
'I'hus we say the mitre for the priesthood, the crown for the 
roj'alty ; for the military occupation we say the sword ; and 
for the literary professions, tiiose especially of theology, law, 
and physic, the common expression is the gown. Often, also, 
■u tliose metonymies wherein the cause is put for the effect, 
and contrariwise in those wherein the effect is put for the 
cause, we have the same thing exemplified, a sensible object 
presented to the mind instead of an intelligible. Of the for- 
mer, the cause for the effect, the following lines of Dryden 
may serve as an illustration : 

" 'Tis all thy business, business how to shun, 
To bask, thy naked body in the sun."* 

Though the rhyme had permitted the change, the word 
mnsliine instead of the sun would have rendered the expres- 
sion weaker. The luminary itself is not only a nobler and 
distincter, hut a more immediate object to the imagination 
than its effulgence, which, though in some respects sensible 
as well as the other, is in some respect merely intelligible, it 
not being perceived directly no more than the air, but discov- 
ered by reflection from the things which it enlightens. Ac- 
cordingly, we ascribe to it neither magnitude nor figure, and 
scarce, with propriety, even colour. As an exemplification 
of the latter, the ef!ect, or something consequential for the 
cause, or, at least, the implement for the motive of using it, 
these words of Scripture will serve : " The sword without, 
and terror within,"! where the term sword, which presents a 
particular and perceivable image to the fancy, must be more 
picturesque than the word war, which conveys an idea that is 
vague and only conceivable, not being otherwise sensible but 
hv its consequences. 


A fourth way in which tropes may promote vivacity is 
when things sensitive are presented to the fancy instead of 
things lifeless ; or, which is nearly the same, when life, per- 
ception, activity, design, passion, or any property of sentient 
beings, is by means of the trope attributed to things inani- 
mate. It is not more evident that the imagination is more 
strongl} affected by things sensible than by things intelligible, 
than It is evident that things animate awaken greater atten 

* Diyden's Persius. + Deut.. xxxii., 25. 



tion, and make a stronger impression on the mir.d, than thing* 
senseless. It is for this reason that the quahty of which I 
am treating hatli come to be termed vivacity, or liveliness of 

In exemplifying what hath been now advanced,! shall pro 
cecd in the method which I took in the former article, and 
begin with metaphor. By a metaphor of this kind, a literary 
performance hath been styled the offspring of the brain ; by 
it a state or government in its first stage is represented as a 
child in these lines of Dryden : 

•' When empire in its childhood first appears, 
A watchful fate o'ersees its tender years."* 

In the last two examples we have things lifeless exhibited 
by things animate. In the following, wherein the effect is 
much the same, sense, feeling, and affection are ascribed 
metaphorically to inanimate matter. Thomson, describing 
the influence of the sunbeams upon the snow in the vallev. 
thus vividly and beautifully exprcsseth himself: 

" Perhaps the vale 
Relents a while to the reflected ray."t 

" Every hedge," says the Tatler, " was conscious of more 
than what the representations of enamoured swains admit 
of. "J Who sees not how much of their energy these quota- 
tions owe to the two words relents and conscious? I shall 
only add, that it is the same kind of metaphor which hath 
brought into use such expressions as the following : a happy 
period, a learned age, the ihirshj ground, a melancholt/ disaster . 

There are several sorts of the metonymy which answer 
the same purpose. The first I shall mention is that wherein 
the inventor is made to denote the invention — Ceres, for in- 
stance, to denote bread, Bacchus wine. Mars war, or any of 
the pagan deities to denote that in which he is specially in- 
terested, as Neptune tlie sea, Pluto hell, Pallas wisdom, and 
Venus the amorous affection. It must be owned, that as this 
kind seems even by the ancients to have been confined to the 
discoveries, attributes, or dominions ascribed in their mythol- 
ogy to the gods, it is of little or no use to us moderns.^ 

Another tribe of metonymies, which exhibits things living 
for things lifeless, is when the possessor is substituted for 
his possessions. Of this we have an example in the Gospel ; 
" Wo unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, for ye de- 
vour the families of widows." Here the word families is used 

* Almanzor. + Winter. J Tat)«r. No. 7. 

^ Even when such tropes occur in ancient authors, they can scarcely be 
translated into any modern tongue, as was hinted in Part First, in regard 
to the phrase " Vario Marte pugnatum est.'" Another- example of tr/r aama 
HiKu:, " Sine Crr're ot liareho friget Venus." 


for their means of subsistence.* Like to this is an expres 
sion in Balaam's prophecy concerning Israel : " He shall cat 
up the nations his enemies. '"f 

A third tribe of metonymies, which often presents us with 
animate instead of inanimate objects, is when the concrete is 
made to signify the abstract ; as, the fool, used for folly ; the 
knave, for knavery ; the "philosopher, for philosophy. I shall 
illustrate this by some examples. Dryden hath given us one 
of this kind that is truly excellent. 

" The slavering cudden propp'd upon the staflf, 
Stood ready gaping with a grinning laugh, 
To welcome her awake, nor durst begin 
To spea.k, but wisely kept the/oo/ within. "t 

The whole picture is striking. The proper words, every one 
of them, are remarkably graphical, as well as the metonymy 
with which the passage concludes. Another from the same 
hand : 

" Who follow next a double danger bring, 
Not only hating David, but the king."i) 

As David himself was king, both the proper name and the 
appellative would point to the same object, were they to be 
literally interpreted. But the opposition here exhibited mani- 
festly shows that tlie last term, the king, is employed by me- 
tonymy to denote the royalty. The sense therefore is, that 
they have not only a personal hatred to the man that is king, 
but a detestation of the kingly office. A trope of this kind 
ought never to be introduced but when the contrast, as in the 
present example, or something in the expression, effectually 
removes all obscurity and danger of mistake. In the pas- 
sage last quoted, there is an evident imitation of a saying re 
corded by historians of .Alexander the Great concerning two 
of his courtiers, Craterus and Hephaestion : " Craterus," said 
he, " loves the kim^, but Hephoestion loves Alexander.'"' Gro- 
tius hath also copied the same mode of expression, in a re- 
mark which he hath made, perhaps with more ingenuity than 
truth, on the two apostles Peter and John. The attachment 
of John, he observes, was to Jesus, of Peter to the Messiah.^ 
Accordingly, their master gave the latter the charge of his 
church, the former that of his family, recommending to him 

* Matt., xxiii., 14. The noun oixias may be rendered e\(!her famUiea oi 
houses. The last, though used by our translators, hath here a double di? 
advantage. First, it is a trope formed upon a trope (which rarely hath a 
good effect), the house for the family, the thing containing for the thing: con- 
tained, and Ihe family for their means of hving; secondly, ideas are intro- 
<luce<l which are incompatible. There is nothing improper in speaking ol 
1 person or family being devoured ; but to talk of devouring a house is at> 
snid. It may be destroyed, demolished, undermined, but not devoured 

t Deut., xxiv., 8. t Cymon and fphigenia. 

6 Absalom and Achitophel. II Annotations in Job-— Int» 

E E 2 


ir. particular the care of Mary his mother. The following 
senlimeiu of Swift is somewhat similar: 

" I do the most that friendship can ; 
I hat 3 the viceroy, love the man." 

The viceroy for the viceroyalty. I shall only add two exam- 
ples more in this way : the first. is from Addison, who, speak- 
.ng of Tallard when taken prisoner by the allies, says, 
"An English muse is touch'd with generous wo, 
And in th' unhappy man forgets the foe.'"* 

The foe, that is, his state of hostility with regard to us at the 
fime. For the second I shall again recur to Dryden : 

" A tyrant's power in rigour is e.xpress'd, 
The father yearns m the true prince's breast." 

The father to denote fatherly affection, or the disposition of 
a father. In fine, it may be justly afRrmed of the w-hole class 
of tropes, that as metaphor in general hath been termed an 
allegory in epitome, such metaphor and metonymies as pre- 
sent us with things animate in the room of things lifeless are 
prosopopeias in miniature. 

But it will be proper here to obviate an objection against 
the last-mentioned species of metonymy, an objection which 
seems to arise from what hath been advanced above. Is it 
possible, may one say, that the concrete put for the abstract 
should render the expression livelier, and that the abstract 
put for the concrete should do the same ^ Is it not more 
natural to conclude that, if one of these tropes serves to in- 
vigorate the style, the reverse must doubtless serve to flatten 
itT But this apparent inconsistency will vanish on a nearer 
inspection. It ought to be remembered, that the cases are 
comparatively few in which either trope will answer better 
tlian the proper term, and the few which suit the one method, 
and the few which suit the other, are totally different in their 
nature. To affirm that in one identical case methods quite 
opposite would produce the same effect, might, with some 
appearance of reason, be charged with inconsistency ; but 
that in cases not identical, nor even similar, contrary meth- 
ods might be necessary for effecting the same purpose, is no- 
wise inconsistent. But possibly the objector will argue on 
the principles themselves severally considered, from which, 
according to the doctrine now explained, the efficacy of the 
tropes ariseth : " If," says he, " the abstract for the concrete 
confers vivacity on the expression, by concentrating the 
whole attention on that particular with which the subject is 
most intimately connected, doth it not lose as much on the 
other hand, by presenting us with a quality instead of a per- 
son, an intelligible for a sensible, an inanimate for a living 
•/♦ject V If this were the effect, the objection would be un- 

* Campaign. 


jnswerable. But it is so far otherwise, that in all sucli in- 
stances, by ascribing life, motion, human affections, and -ac- 
tions to the abstract, it is, in fact, personified, and thus gains 
in point of energy tlie one way, without losing anything the 
otlier. The same thing holds of all the congenial tropes, the 
tlole for the donor, and the rest. In like manner, when the 
concrete is used for the abstract, there is, in the first place, a 
real personification, the subject being, in fact, a mere quality 
noth inanimate and insensible : nor do we lose the particu- 
larity implied in the abstract, because, where this trope is ju- 
diciously used, there must be something in the sentence 
which fixes the attention specially on that quality. Thus, to 
recur to the preceding examples, when David and the king, 
though known to be the same person, are contradistinguish- 
ed in the same line, the mind is laid under a necessity of con- 
sideiing the word king as implying purely that which consti- 
tutes him such, namely, the royal power. The same may be 
said of the other instances. So far, indeed, I agree with the 
objector, that wherever the trope is not distinctly marked 
with the >vords with which it is connected, it is faulty and in- 
judicious. It both misses vivacity, and throws obscurity on 
the sentiment. 

1 have here examined the tropes so far only as they are 
subservient to vivacity, by presenting to the mind some im- 
age, which, from the original principles of our nature, more 
strongly attaches the fancy than could have been done by 
the proper terms whose place they occupy. And in this ex- 
amination I have found that they produce this effect in these 
four cases : first, when they can aptly represent a species by 
an individual, or a genus by a species ; secondly, when they 
serve to fix the attention on the most interesting particular, 
or that with which the subject is most intimately connec'ed ; 
thirdly, when they exhibit things intelligible by things sensi- 
ble ; and, fourthly, when they suggest things lifeless by things 
animate. How conducive the tropes are, in like manner, both 
to elegance and to animation, will be exainined afterward. 
They even sometimes conduce to vivacity, not from anything 
preferable in the ideas conveyed by them, but in a way that 
cannot properly come under consideration till we inquire how 
far this quality depends on the number of the words and on 
their arrangement. 

Part III. The Use of those Tropes which are Obstructive to Fi- 

Let us now, ere we finish this article, bestow some at..en 
lion on the opposite side (for contraries serve best to illus- 
trate each other), and make a few remarks on those tropes 
which either have a natural tendency to render the expres- 
sion more languid, or, at least, are noway fitted for enlivening 


the diction. That there are tropes whose direct tendencj u 
even to enfeeble the expression, is certainly true, though they 
are fewer in number, and more rarely used, .han those which 
produce the contrary effect. The principal tropes of this 
kind which I remember at present are three sorts of the sy- 
necdoche, the genus for the species, the whole for apart, and 
the matter for the instrument or thing made of it, and some 
sorts of the metaphor, as the intelligible for the sensible. Of 
the genus for the species, which is the commonest of all, re5- 
sel for ship, creature or animal for man, will serve as exam- 
ples. Of the whole for a part, which is the most uncommon, 
1 do noi, recollect another instance but that of the man or 
woman by name, sometimes for the body only, sometimes onl}' 
for the soul ; as when we say, " Such a one was buried yes- 
terday," that is, " The body of such a one was buried yes- 
terday." "^jueas saw his father in Elysium," that is, his fa- 
ther's ghost. The common phrase •• all the world," for a great 
number of people, and some others of the same kind, have 
also been produced as examples, but improperly ; for in all 
such expressions there is an evident hyperbole, the intention 
being manifestly to magnily the number. Of the third kind 
the matter for what is made of it, there are doubtless several 
instances, such as silcer for money, canvass for sail, and steei 
for sword. 

It is proper to inquire from what principles in our nature 
tropes of this sort derive their origin, and what are the pur- 
poses which they are intended to promote. The answer to 
Ihe first of tiiese queries will serve effectually to answei 
both. First, then, they may arise merely from a disposition 
to vary the expression, and prevent the too frequent recur- 
rence of the same sound upon the ear. Hence often the ge- 
nus for the species. This is the more pardonable if used 
moderately, as there is not even an apparent impropriety in 
putting at any time the genus for the species, because the lat- 
ter is always comprehended in the former; whereas, in the 
reverse, there is inevitably an appearance of impropriety till 
it is mollified by use. If one in speaking of a linnet, and 
sometimes instead of linnet says /)ird, he is considered rathei 
as varying the expression than as employing a trope. Sec- 
ondly, they may arise from an inclination to suggest contempt 
without rudeness ; that is, not openly to express, but indirect- 
ly to insinuate it. Thus, when a particular man is called a 
creature or an animal, there is a sort of tacit refusal of the 
specific attributes of human nature, as the term implies only 
the direct acknowledgment of those enjoyed in common with 
the brutes, or even with the whole creation. The phrases no 
creature and eceri/ creature, like all the icorld, are a kind of hy- 
perbolic idioms, wiiich come not under this category. Third 
ly, they may proceed from a love of brevity in cases where 
in perspicuity cannot be hurl. Thii-^ to sav 


•• V'our frier..l Alexandtr lies here interr'd," 
.s briefer, and not less perspicuous, than to say, " The corpse 
of your friend Alexander — " Fourthly, they may spring from 
a desire to find a term that will make a better counterpart, in 
respect either of the sense or of the sound, to some other 
word which the speaker or the writer hath had occasion to 
use, the ideas conveyed by the two words being also related. 
This occasions sometimes not only that the genus is used for 
the species, but that the matter is made to signify the thing 
made of it ; botli of which will be farther illustrated when I 
come to consider how far vivacity may result from arrange- 
ment. Fifthly (and this is the last source that occurs to my 
thoughts), tropes of this kind may arise from a desire of pal- 
liating the representation, and that either from humanity, 
from courtesy, or from decency. 

By the first of the five principles above mentioned, if used 
discreetly, something is done for the sake of variety where 
the vivacity of the expression is little affected ; by the sec- 
ond, even a farther end, a species of animation, is attained ; 
by the third and fourth, what is lost of vivacity in one way 
is more than compensated in another ; but by the fifth we are 
led to avoid this quality as a fault. 

There are some subjects of which it may be necessary on 
certain occasions to speak, which, nevertheless, present an 
object to the imagination that is either disagreeable or inde- 
cent. It is sufficient that such things be hinted to the under- 
standing, so that the meaning may be apprehended ; it is by 
no means fit that they be painted in the liveliest colours to 
the fancy. There are some things which a painter may find 
it expedient to introduce into a picture, and to render just dis- 
coverable by placing them in the shade, in the background, 
or at a corner, which it would be extremely improper to set 
in such a point of view as would immediately attract and fix 
the eye of the spectator. The like doubtless holds with re- 
gard to the orator. And it hath been chiefly to veil, without 
darkening, what the smallest degree of delicacy requires us 
to avoid exposing in tlie strongest light, that certain sorts of 
tropes and modes of expression have first been brought into 
use. To the same cause is also to be ascribed the recourse 
that is often had to circumlocution, which will fall to be con- 
sidered in the ensuing chaptei*. 

All such tropes and modes of expression have come under 
the common denomination of the euphemism, a name that hath 
been assigned purely from the consideration of the purpose 
for which they are employed ; which is, to express in terms 
that are inoffensive an object in some respect or other oflfen- 
sive. The euphemism is not a distinct trope (as it hath im- 
properly been accounted by some critics), but a certain ap- 
oiicat'on of other tropes, especially of metaphor and synec 


doche, and even of some of the figures of elocution, the peri- 
phrasis in particular. Sometimes we are led to this from a 
principle of civility, or even of affection, when the plain and 
direct mention of an object might either recall grief or hurt 
sensibility, and sometimes from ideas of decorum. 

It is by a euphemism that the words deceased and departed 
came at first to be used instead of dead, which is no other 
than a synecdoche of the genus for the species ; falling asleep 
for di/ing, which is a metaphor, there being an evident resem- 
bhince between sleep and death; nnd stopping payment for be- 
coming Ijanhrupt, which is a metonymy of the effect for the 
cause. There is, indeed, in employing this figure, the eu- 
phemism, more than in any otlier, a natural tendency to 
change. The reason may easily be deduced from the gen- 
eral doctrine concerning tropes, explained in the first part of 
this section. The frequent use of any word in this manner 
brings it insensibly to have all the effect of the proper term 
whose place it was intended to supply; no sooner Is this ef- 
fect produced by it, than the same principle that influenced 
us at first to employ it, operates with equal strength in influ- 
encing us to lay it aside, and in its stead to adopt something 
newer and still more remote. The excessive delicacy of the 
French in this respect hath given rise to expressions whicb 
it would not be easy to trace, from any known trope or figure 
of oratory, and which, to say the truth, have something ri- 
diculous in tlieir appearance. Thus a disbanded regiment i» 
with them a reformed regiment ; a cashiered officer is a reform- 
ed officer; and a man is said to reform his equipage when ne- 
cessity obliges him to give it up ; even the hangman, through 
the superabundance of their complaisance, is titled the mastet 
of the high works* In the use of this figure among the an 
cients, superstition in regard to some words which were 
thought to be of bad omen, seems to have had as great » 
share as either a delicate sympathy with the feelings of oth- 
ers, or a very nice sense of what is decent and cleanly. 

As to the nature and extent of the last source which was 
assigned of the euphemism, it -will be proper to be a little 
more particular. Those things which it is indecent to ex- 
press vividly are always such as are conceived to have some 
turpitude in them, either natural or moral. An example ol 
this decency in expression, where the subject hath some natu- 
ral turpitude, you will find in Martha's answer, as it is in the 
original, wlien our Saviour gave orders to remove the stone 
from the sepulchre of her brother Lazarus: "Lord, by this 
time he smelleth, for he hath been dead four days.'^f In our 
version it is somewhat indelicately, not to say indecently, 
rendered stinkcth. Our translators have in this instance un. 

*, Le rnai'/P flos hantos oeuvres. t John, xi. 39, IjSii ol^. 


necessarily receded from their ordinary rule of Keeping ag 
close as possible to the letter. The synecdoche in this place 
answers just as well in English as in Greek ; the perspicuity 
is such as secures the reader from the possibility of a mis- 
take, at the same time that the expression is free from the in- 
decency with which the other is chargeable. But if it be ne- 
cessary to avoid a vivid exhibition of what appears uncleanly 
to the external senses, it is much more necessary in what- 
ever may have a tendency to pollute the mind. It is not al 
ways the mention of vice, as such, which has this tendency. 
Many of the most atrocious crimes may be mentioned with 
great plainness without any such danger, and therefore with- 
out the smallest indecorum. What the subjects are which 
are in this way dangerous, it is surely needless to explain; 
and as every person of sense will readily conceive the truth 
of the general sentiment, to propose without necessity to 
produce examples for the elucidation of it might justly be 
charged with being a breach of that decency of which I am 

So much for the use that may be made of tropes in soften- 
ing and even enervating, as well as in enlivening and invigo 
rating the expression, though it must be owned that the oc 
casions are comparatively few on which the former purpose 
can be said to be expedient. 

I shall only add a few remarks concerning the catachresis 
which hath, in like manner, been improperly reckoned a sep 
arate trope. The reason that I have taken no notice of ithith 
erto is, that it is but rarely defensible in modern languages, 
which require the strictest regard to propriety ; and even in 
he few cases wherein it is defensible, it is purely so because 
necessary ; but is seldom eligible, as it rarely contributes ei- 
ther to ornament or to strength. 1 shall explain myself by 
some instances. 

One species of the catachresis is when words are used i» 
a signification that is very near their ordinary meaning, but 
not precisely the same. Examples of this would be a high 
man for a tall man, a large oration for a long oration, a big ge- 
nius, for -A great genius. This, if anything, would be classed 
under the metaphor, as there is a resemblance in the import 
of the words. Unluckily, the word adopted is too near a co- 
incidence with the right epithet to present an image to the 
fancy, at the same time that it is not entirely coincident, aM 
therefore cannot be denominated a proper term. In this ap- 
plication the name catachresis is no more than another word 
for impropriety. Of this kind there is an example in the fifth 
commandment, as it runs in our version, " that thy days may 
be long (Anglic^, man7j) upon the land "* It is impossible t%, 

' Exod . XX 


avoid such blunders in translating, when one aims at bo 
ing literal, without attending to the different geniuses of dit- 
ferent tongues. In original performances, they are more rare- 
ly to be met with, being just such improprieties as none but 
novices in the language are apt to fall into. 

A second species of this figure is when words which, from 
their etymology, appear to be applicable solely to one kind 
of thing, come afterward to be applied to another, which is 
nearly related in its nature or design, but with w^hich, never- 
theless, the analysis of the word will not accord. This is 
sometimes not only excusable from necessity, as when the 
language doth not furnish a proper term, but sometimes also 
receives the sanction of general use ; and in this case, what- 
ever it was originally, it becomes proper. I shall give some 
examples of this in our own tongue. As it is probable that 
among our Saxon ancestors candle-holders were solely made 
of wood, they were properly denominated candlesticks ; after- 
ward, when, through an increase of wealth and luxury, such 
utensils were made of metal, the old name w-as nevertheless 
retained, and at first, by a catachresis, applied to these. But 
the application is now ratified, and the word appropriated by 
custom. The name inhhorn, denoting a portable case for hold- 
ing ink, probably at first made only of horn, is a similar in- 
stance. In like manner, the word parricide in English, like 
parncida in Latin, at first perhaps signified only the murderer 
of his father, but hath come to be equally applied to him who 
murders his mother, his brother, or his sister. In all these 
inslances there was an excuse at first from necessity, the 
language not affording words strictly proper; but now, hav- 
ing ol)taiiied the universal suffrage, which in every country 
gives law to language, they need no excuse. There is an in- 
stance of a catachresis of this kind in our translation of the 
Bible, which (not beijig supported by the plea of necessity) 
ought to be considered as a glaring impropriety : '' He made 
the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the look- 
ing-glasses of the women.'"* It is, however, probable that tlie 
word mirror was not in such common use then as it is now. 
There are a few phrases which come under the same denom- 
ination, and which, though favoured by custom, being quite 
unnecessary, deserve to be exploded. Such, among others, are 
the following : the workmanship of God for the work of God ; 
a man-of-war for a ship of war ; and a merchantman for a tra- 
ding vessel. The absurdity in the last two instances is com- 
monly augmented by the words connected in the sequel, in 
which, by the application of the pronouns she and her, we are 
made to understand that the man spoken of is a female. 1 
think this gibberish ought to be left entirely to mariners, 
among whom, I suppose, it hath originated. 

* Exod., vxxviii., 8 


The only remaining species of the catachresis which I can 
recollect at present is no other than a far-fetched and incon- 
gruous metaphor. JN'olhuig can more justly be reduced un 
der this class than the application of the attributes of one cor 
poreal sense to the objects of another ; as if we should sa> 
of a voice that it is beautiful to the ear, or of a face that it is 
melodious to the eye. Nothing succeeds better, as hath V<tcn 
observed already, than metaphors taken from the objects of 
sensation, to denote the objects of pure intellection ; yet no- 
thing generally succeeds worse than metaphors that are only 
transferred from sense to sense. I say generally, because 
such is the omnipotence of fashion in respect of language 
that it is capable of conciliating us even to such applications 
Thus the term sioeet belongs properly to the sense of tasting 
alone ; yet it hath been transferred to the sense of smelling, 
of hearing, and of seeing. We .'■ay a siveet scent, sweet mel- 
ody, a sweet prospect. The word soft, in like manner, be- 
onged originally to the sen':e of touching, and to it only ; yet 
it hath been applied metaphorically, and (as we learn by the 
event) successfully, to o-Pjr senses. Thus we talk of a soft 
whisper, and Pope spe?kj of the soft-eyed virgin. Customary 
applications at length become proper, though they do not ex- 
hibit the primitive sense. For this reason, several of the 
aforesaid instances are not to be considered at present as ex- 
amples of the catachresis. Sometimes, however, even a new 
catachresis of the last-mentioned kind, which is the most 
hazardous, will please the most fastidious critic. Take the 
following example from Young : 

" Her voice is but the shadow of a sound."* 

The reanon of our approbation in this case is, if I mistake not, 
that an illusion or comparison is suggested which exhibits 
more strongly the author's meaning than it could have been 
exhibited by any other words in the same compass. The sen- 
timent is, that the same relation which the shadow bears to 
the substance of which it is the shadow, the lady's voice bears 
to an ordinary sound. 

Having now discussed what was proposed here concern- 
ing tropes, I shall conclude with observing that, in this dis- 
cussion, there hath been occasion, as it were, incidentally to 
discover, that they are so far from being the inventions of 
art, that, on the contrary, they result from the original and 
essential principles of the human mind ; that, accordingly, 
they are the same, upon the main, in all nations, barbarous 
and civilized ; that the simplest and most ancient tongues do 
most abound with them, the natural effect of improvement in 
science and language, which commonly go together, being to 
•cgulate the fancy and to restrain the passions ; that the sole 

• Universal Passion. 
F * 


business of ail in lias subject is to range the several tropea 
and figures into classes, to distinguish them by names, and 
to trace he principles in the mind which gave them birtli. 

The first, indeed, or, rather, the only people upon the earth 
who have thought of classing under proper appellations the 
numerous tropes and figures of elocution, common to all 
languages, were the Greeks. The Latins, and all modern 
nations, have in this particular only borrowed from them, 
adopting the very names they used. But as to the tracing 
of those figures to the springs in human nature from which 
they flow, extremely little hath as yet been attempted. Nay 
the names that have been given are but few, and, by contse- 
quence, very generical. Each class, the metaphor and the 
metonymy in particular, is capable of being divided into sev 
eral tribes, to which no names have yet been assigned. 

It was affirmed that the tropes and figures of eloquence are 
found to be the same, ttpon the main, in all ages and nations. 
The words vpon the main were added, because, though the 
most and the principal of them are entirely the same, there 
are a few which presuppose a certain refinement of thought 
not natural to a rude and illiterate people. Such, in particu- 
lar, is that species of the metonymy, the concrete for the ab- 
stract, and possibly some others. We shall afterward, per- 
haps, have occasion to remark, that the modern improve- 
ments in ridicule have given rise to some which cannot prop- 
erly be ranged under any of the classes above mentioned, to 
which, therefore, no name hath as yet been appropriated 
and of which I am not sure whether antiquity can furnish u? 
with an example. 



When I entered on the consideration of vivacity as depend- 
ing on the choice of words, I observed that the words may be 
either proper terms or rlietorical tropes ; and whether the one 
or the other, ihey may be regarded not only as signs, but as 
sounds, and, consequently, as capable, in certain cases, ol 
bearing, in some degree, a natural resemblance or affinity to 
'he things signified. The first two articles, proper terms and 
rhetorical tropes, I have discussed already, regarding only the 
sense and application of the words, whether used literally or 
figurat' vely. It remains now to consider them in regard to 
the sound, and the affinity to the subject of which the sound 
i« susceptible. When, as Pope expresseth it, " the sound is 
made an echo to the sense,"* there is added, in a certain de- 
gree, to the association arising from custom, the influence of 
resemblance between the signs and the things signified, an«/ 
* Essay on Criticism 


this doubtless tends to strengthen the impression made by the 
discourse. Tills subject, I acknowledge, hath been very much 
canvassed by critics ; I shall therefore be the briefer in my 
remarks, confining myself chiefly to the two following points. 
First, I shall inquire what kinds of things language is capiblo 
of imitating by its sound, and in what degree it is capaole ; 
secondly, what rank ought to be assigned to this species of 
excellence, and in what cases it ought to be attempted. 

Part I. What n7'e Articulate Sounds capable of Imitating and 
tn what Degree ? 

First, I shall inquire what kinds of things language is ca 
pable of imitating by its sound, and in what degree it Is 

And here it is natural to think that the imitative power of 
language must be greatest when the subject itself is things 
audible. One sound may surely have a greater resemblance 
to another sound than it can have to anything of a different 
nature. In the description, therefore, of the terrible thunder, 
whirlwmd, and tempest, or of the cooling zephyr and the gen- 
tle gale, or of any other thing that is sonorous, the imitation 
vhat may be made by the sound of the description will cer- 
tainly be more perfect than can well be expected in what 
concerns things purely intelligible, or visible, or tangible. 
Yet even here the resemblance, if we consider it abstractly, 
is very faint. 

The human voice is doubtless capable of imitating, to a 
considerable degree of exactness, almost any sound what- 
ever. But our present inquiry is solely about what may be 
imitated by articulate sounds, for articulation greatly confines 
the natural powers of the voice ; neither do we inquire what 
an extraordinary pronunciation may effectuate, but what 
power in this respect the letters of the alphabet have when 
combined into syllables, and these into words, and these again 
into sentences, uttered audibly, indeed, and distinctly, but 
without any uncommon effort. Nay, the orator, in this spe- 
cies of imitation, is still more limited. He is not at liberty 
to select whatever articulate sounds he can find to be fittest 
for imitating those concerning which he is discoursing. That 
he may be understood, he is under a necessity of confining 
himself to such sounds as are rendered by use the signs of 
the things he would suggest by them. If there be a variety 
of these signs, which commonly cannot be great, he 
some scope for selection, but not otherwise. Yet so remotw 
is the resemblance here at best, that in no language, ancient 
or modern, are the meanings of any words, except, perhaps 
those expressing the cries of some animals, discoverable 
on the bare hearing, to one who doth not u':!derstand the Ian 


)^eed, when the subject is articulate sound, the speaker oi 
the writer may do more than produce a resemblance; he 
way even render the expression an example of that which he 
affirms. Of this kind precisely are the last three lines of the 
(ollovfing quotation from Pope : 

" These equal syllables alone require, 
Though oft the ear the open vowels tire, 
While expletives their feeble aid do join, 
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line."* 

But this manner, which, it must be owned, hath a very good 
effect in enlivening the expression, is not imitation, though it 
nath sometimes been mistaken for it, or, rather, confounded 
with it. 

As to sounds inarticulate, a proper imitation of them hath 
been attempted in the same piece, in the subsequent lines, 
and with tolerable success, at least in the concluding couplet • 

" Soft is the strain when Zephyr gently blows, 
And the smooth stream in smoother numbers flows ; 
But when loud surges lash the sounding shore. 
The hoarse rough verse should like the torrent roar."t 

An attempt of the same kind of conformity of the sound to 
the sense is perhaps but too discernible in the following quo- 
tation from the same author : 

" O'er all the dreary coasts ' 
Dreadful gleams. 
Dismal screams. 
Fires that glow, 
Shrieks of wo, 
Sullen moans, 
Hollow groans. 
And cries of injured ghosts."} 

Milton's description of the opening of hell-gates ought not 

here to be overlooked : 

" On a sudden open fly, 
With impetuous recoil and jarring sound, 
Th' infernal doors, and on their hinges grate 
Harsh thunder — "^ 

The same author has, in another performance, given an ex 
cellent specimen in this way : 

" Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw."|l 

He succeeds the better here, that what he says is evidently 
accompanied with a design of exciting contempt. This in- 
duceth us to make allowance for his leaving the beaten road 
in search of epithets. In this passage of the Odyssey, 

■* Essay on Criticism. + Ibid. 

t Ode on St. Cecilia's Day. () Paradise Lost b. ii 

H 'o'cidas. An imitation of a line of Virgil, Eel. iii. : 

" S'ridenti iniserum stipula disperdere carmen." 


" His bloody hand 
Snatch'd two unhappy of my martial band, 
And dash'd like dogs against the stony floor,* 

the sound, but not the abruptness of the crash, is, I imagine 
better imitated than in the original, which on account of both, 
especially the last, was much admired by the critic of Hali- 
carnassus. An excellent attempt in this way we have in a 
poem by Dyer : 

" The Pilgrim oft 
At dead of night, mid his orison, hears 
Aghast the voice of time, disparting towers, 
Tumbling all precipitous down-dash'd. 
Rattling around, loud thundering to the moon."t 

But the best example to be found in our language is, in my 
opinion, the following lines of Mr. Pope : 

"What ! like Sir Richard, rumbling, rough, and fierce. 
With arms, and George, and Brunswick crowd the verse. 
Rend with tremendous sounds your ears asunder. 
With drum, gun, trumpet, blunderbuss, and thunder? 
Then all your muse's softer art display. 
Let Carolina smooth the tuneful lay. 
Lull with Amelia's liquid name the nine. 
And sweetly flow through all the royal line."t 

The success here is tlie greater, that the author appears 
through the whole to deride the immoderate affectation ol 
this overrated beauty, with which some modern poetasters 
are so completely dazzled. On the whole, the specimens 
produced, though perhaps as good as any of the kind extant 
in our language, serve to evince rather how little than how 
much can be done in this way, and how great scope there is 
here for the fancy to influence the judgment. 

But there are other subjects besides sound to which lan- 
guage is capable of bearing some resemblance. Time and 
motion, for example, or whatever can admit the epithets ol 
quick and slow, is capable, in some degree, of being imitated 
by speech. In language there are long and short syllables, 
one of the former being equal or nearly equal to two of the 
latter. As these may be variously combined in a sentence, 
and syllables of either kind may be made more or less to pre- 
dominate, the sentence may be rendered by the sound more 
or less expressive of celerity or tardiness. And though even 
here the power of speech seems to be much limited, there be- 
ing but two degrees in syllables, whereas the natural degrees 
of quickness or slowness in motion or action maybe infinite- 
ly varied, yet on this subject the imitative power of articu- 
late sound seems to be greater and more distinctive than op 

* Pope's Od. In Homer thus . 


t R'lins of Rome, Dodsley's Collection, vol. i. J Sat i. 

F F 3 


any other. This appears to particular advantage in verse, 
when, without violating the rules of prosody, a greater or a 
less number of syllables is made to suit the time. Take the 
following example from Milton : 

" When the merry bells ring round, 
And the jocund rebecs sound 
To many a youth and many a maid 
Dancing m the checker'd shade."* 

In this passage the third line, though consisting often sylla 
bles, is, by means of two anapaests, pronounced, without 
hurting the measure, in the same time with an iambic line of 
eight syllables, and therefore well adapted in sound to the 
airy diversion he is describing. At the same time, it must be 
owned that some languages have, in this particular, a re- 
markable superiority over others. In English the iambic 
verse, which is the commonest, admits here and there the in- 
sertion of a spondee for protracting, or of an anapaest, as in the 
example quoted, for quickening the expression.! 

But, in my opinion, Greek and Latin have here an advan- 
tage, at least in their heroic measure, over all modern tongues. 
Accordingly, Homer and Virgil furnish us with some excel- 
lent specimens in this way. But that we may know what 
our own tongue and metre is capable of effecting, let us re- 
cur to our own poets, and first of all to the celebrated trans- 
lator of the Grecian bard. I have made choice of him the 
rather as he was perfectly sensible of this beauty in the origi- 
nal which he copied, and endeavoured, as much as the ma 
terials he had to work upon would permit him, to exhibit it 
in his version Let us take for an example the punishment 
of Sisyphus in the other world, a passage which had on this 
very account been much admired in Homer by all the critics 
both ancient and modern. 

' Up the high hill he heaves a huge round stone ; 
The huge round stone resulting with a bound, 
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground."t 

• L'Allegro. 

t Perhaps the feet employed i'l ancien\,' ?re not, in strict propriety, 
«pplicable to the measures adopted by tho English prosody. It is not my 
business at present to enter into this curious question. It suffices that I 
think there is a rhythmus in our veroe plainly discernible by the ear, and 
which, as it at least bears some analogy to the Greek and Latin feet, makes 
this application of their names sufficiently intelligible. 

X in Greek thus: 

" Aaav avh) iiOcBKC voti \6<pov— 
AvTij tTTCtTTa TriSovSc KvXivicTO Xani avaiSiJi" — Od. 

In Latin verse, Vida, in his An of Poetry, hath well exemplified this beauty 
from his great master, Virgil : 

" lUe autem membns, ac mole ignavius ingens 
Incedit tardo molimine subsidendo." 
Here not only the frequency of the spondees, but the difficulty of forming 
t^e elisions ; above all. the spondee in the fifth root of the second line in- 


It is lemaJcable that Homer (though greatly pre.erable to 
his transhitor in both) hath succeeded best in describing the 
fail of the stone, Pope in relating how it was heaved up the 
hill. The success of the English poet here is not to be as- 
cribed entirely to the length of the syllables, but partly to an- 
other cause, to be explained afterward. 

I own I do not approve the expedient which this admirable 
versifier hath used, of introducing an Alexandrine line for ex- 
pressing rapidity. I entirely agree with Johnson,* that this 
kind of measure is rather stately than swift ; yet our poet 
hath assigned this last quality as the reason of his choice. 
" I was too sensible," says he, in the margin, " of the beauty 
of this, not to endeavour to imitate it, though unsuccessfully. I 
have, therefore, thrown it into the swiftness of an Alexandrine, 
to make it of a more proportionable number of syllables with 
the Greek." Ay, but to resemble in length is one thing, and 
to resemble in swiftness is another. The difference lies here : 
in Greek, an hexameter verse, whereof all the feet save one 
are dactyls, though it hath several syllables more, is pro- 
nounced in the sane time with an hexameter verse whereof 
all tile feet save one are spondees, and is, therefore, a just 
emblem of velocity ; that is, of moving a great way in a short 
time ; whereas the Alexandrine line, as it consists of more 
syllables than the common English heroic, requires propor- 
tionably more time to the pronunciation. For this reason, 
the same author, in another work, has, I think, with better 
success, made choice of this very measure to exhibit slow- 
loss : 

" A needless Alexandrine ends the song, 
That, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along."1 

(t deserves our notice, that in this couplet he seems to give 
it as his opinion of the Alexandrine, that it is a dull and tar- 
dy measure. Yet, as if there were no end of his inconsistency 
on this subject, he introduceth a line of the same kind a little 
after in the same piece, to represent uncommon speed : 
" Not so when swift Camilla scours the plain, 
Flies o'er th' unbending corn, and skims along the main.''4: 

A most wonderful and peculiar felicity in this measure, to be 
alike adapted to imitate the opposite qualities of swiftness 
and slowness. Such contradictions would almost tempt one 

etead of a dactyl, greatly retard the motion. For the contrary expression 

of speed, 

'' Si 60 forte cava extulerit mala vipera terra, 
ToUe moras, cape saxa manu, cape robora, pastor, 
Ferte i:iti flammas, date tela, repellite pestem." 

Here everything concurs to accelerate the motion, the number of dactyls, 

no elision, no diphthong, no concurrence of consonants, unless where a long 

»y liable is necessary, and even there the consonants of easy pronunciation. 

«■ Rambler, No. 82 t Essay on Criticism. % ibi'l 


to suspect that this species of resemblance is imaginaiy ai 
together. Indeed, the fitness of the Alexandrine to express 
jn a certain degree, the last of these qualities, may be allow- 
ed, and is easily accounted for. Bui no one would ever have 
dreamed of its fitness for the first who had not been misled 
oy an erroneous conclusion from the effect of a very differ- 
ent measure, Greek and Latin hexameter. Yet Pope is not 
the only one of our poets who hath fallen into this error. 
Dryden hath preceded him in it, and even gone much farther. 
Not satisfied with the Alexandrine, he hath chosen a line of 
fourteen syllables for expressing uncommon celerity : 
" Which urged, and labour'd, and forced up with pain, 
Recoils, and rolls irnpeluous down, and smokes along the plain."* 

Pope seems to have thought that in this instance, though the 
principle on which Dryden proceeded was good, he had ex- 
ceeded all reasonable bounds in applying it ; for it is this very 
line which he hath curtailed into an Alexandrine in the pas- 
sage from the Odyssey already quoted. Indeed, the impropri- 
ety here is not solely in the measure, but also in the diph- 
thongs oi, and ow, and oa, so frequently recurring, than which 
nothing, not even a collision o'f jarring consonants, is less fit- 
ted to express speed. The only word in the line that seems 
adapted to the poet's view is the term impetuous, in which two 
short syllables, being crowded into the time of one, have an 
efiect similar to that produced by the dactyl in Greek and 
Latin. Creech, without the aid of an Alexandrine, hath been 
equally, if not more, unsuccessful. The same line of the 
Latin poet he thus translates : 

" And with swift force roll through the humble plain." 
Here the sentiment, instead of being imitated, is contrasted 
by the expression. A more crawling spondaic verse our he- 
roic measure hardly ever admits. 

At the same time, injustice to English prosody, it ought to 
be remarked, that it compriseth one kind of metre, the ana- 
paestic, which is very fit for expressing celerity, perhaps as 
much as any kind of measure, ancient or modern. But there 
is in it a light familiarity, which is so ill adapted to the majes- 
ty of the iambic as to render it but rarelj' admissible into po- 
ems written in this measure, and, consequently> either into 
tragedy or into epic. 

Ere I conclude what may be said on the subject of motion, 
I shall observe farther, that there are other affections of mo- 
tion besides swiftness and slowness, such as vibration, inter- 
mission, inequality, which, to a certain degree, may be imita- 
ted in the sound of the description. The expression 

" Troy's turrets totler'd," 
m the translation of the Iliad, is an instance of the first, the 

♦ lucretius. b. iii 


vibration being represented by the frequent and quick recur 
fence of the same letters ranged a little differently. In thfl 

" Tumbling all precipitate down dash'd," 

already quoted from the Ruins of Rome, there is an attempt 
to imitate the motion as well as the sound. The last of the 
four following lines from Milton contains also a tolerable ini 
itation of both : 

" Oft on a plat of rising ground 
I hear the far-off curlew sound, 
Over some wide-water'd shore, 
Swinging slow with sullen roar."* 

Another very natural subject of imitation is size, or what- 
ever the terms great or little may be applied to, literally or 
metaphorically. Things grand may be imitated by long and 
well-sounding words ; things bulky by long and ill-sounding 
words ; tilings little by short words. The connexion here is 
as obvious as in either of the two former cases, but the pow- 
er of our language is rather less. It affords so little variety 
in the choice of words in respect of length, that often the 
grandest objects in nature cannot be expressed with proprie- 
ty otherwise than by a poor monosyllable. Bulkiness, ac- 
companied with motion, will fall to be exemplified in the next 

A fourth subject of imitation in language is difficulty and 
ease. There is a considerable difference in this respect in 
the pronunciation of difl^erent words and sentences, which, if 
happily accommodated in the sentiment, adds to the effect of 
the expression. If, for instance, what is difficultly acted be 
difficultly pronounced, and if, on the contrary, what is per- 
formed with facility be uttered with ease, there will result a 
certain degree of vivacity from this slight resemblance; for 
it is au. invariable maxim, that the ear is grated with hearing 
what the organs of speech find it uneasy to articulate. Sev- 
eral things contribute to render pronunciation difficult. First, 
the collision of vowels ; that is, when one syllable ends with 
a vowel, and the next (it matters not whether it be in the 
same word or not) begins with the same vowel, or with one 
which approaches to it in sound. Re-enter, co-operate, re- 
enforce, rc-fitnimate though oft, the ear, the open, are examples 
of this. A certain effort is required to keep them, as it were, 
asunder, and make both be distinctly heard as belonging to 
different syllables. When the vowels are very unlike in 
sound, or the formation of the one is easily accomplished af- 
ter the articulation of the other, they have not the same effect. 
Thus, in the words vanety, coeval, the collision doth not ere* 
ate a perceptible diiiiculty. Now, as difficulty is generally 

* II Penserosn 


the cause of slowness in any operation, such a clashing of 
vcwels is often employed to represent a tardy or lingering 
motion.* A second cause of difficulty in utterrance is the 
frequent recurring of the aspirate (h), especially when placed 
between two vowels that are both sounded. It is this which 
renders the translation of the passage above quoted from the 
Odyssey so sigiiificunt of the same qualities. 

" Up the Aigh /lill he leaves a huge round stone." 
A. like effect is produced by any of the mutes that are aspi- 
rated, as the ih and ph, or/, especially if combined with other 
consonants. The following line of Chaucer is not a bad ex- 
ample of this : 

" He through the thickest of the throng gan threke."t 
A third cause of difficulty in pronunciation is the clash of two 
or more jarring consonants. Some consonants are easily 
combined; the combinations of such are not expressive of 
this quality, but it is not so with all. An instance of this dif- 
ficulty we have in the following line : 

" And strains •'■ from hard bound brains •• si.v lines a year."t 
We have here once five consonants, sometimes four, and 
sometimes three, which are all pronounced without an inter- 
vening vowel. The difficulty is rendered still more sensible 
by the double pause, which occasions a very drawling move- 
ment. Another example 1 shall take from the same author • 
" When Ajax strives some rock's vast weight to throw, 
The line too labours, and the words move slovv."iJ 

In the first of these lines, the harsh combinations of conso- 
nants make the difficulty of pronunciation very observable ; 
in the second, the author hath not been so successful. I 
ktiow not how it might affect the more delicate ear of an 
Italian, but if we compare it with the generality of English 
verses, we shall find it remarkably easy and flowing. It has 
nothing in respect of sound, either in the syllables separately 
or in tlie measure, that iti the least favours the sentiment, ex- 
cept only in its ending in a spondee instead of an iambus. 
But this is too common in our poesy to have any effect that 
is worthy of notice. V^ida's translator, in a passage extreme- 
ly similar, hath been happier, if he may not be thought to 
have exceeded in this respect : 

" If some large weight his huge arm strive to shove, 
The verse too labours, the throng'd words scarce move.'H 

First the word verse is harsher than line ; secondly, the end- 
[\\g is in two spondees, which, though perhaps admissible into 

* It is chiefly from this cause that the Ime in the Odysosey above quot«